CRANFORD — The Cranford High School Concert Choir will present For My People, a new musical work based on the poetry of Margaret Walker and composed by Randy Klein, on Friday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. The performance will feature the composer at the piano and Broadway performer, Aurelia Williams as the vocal soloist. The performance is free and open to the public.
Using the poetry of the great American poet, novelist and essayist Margaret Walker, For My People encompasses a variety of musical genres, including classical, contemporary, gospel, and musical theater. The songs and poetry deal with the African-American experience in the American South during the Twentieth Century. New York composer Randy Klein has given these poems a new voice through his musical settings.
“My attraction to the poetry of Margaret Walker was the result of a New York City subway trip from Brooklyn to Manhattan in February of 2000,” explained composer Randy Klein. “Printed on a placard from the “Poetry in Motion” series was a poem by Margaret Walker titled, ‘Lineage.’ It began, ‘My grandmothers were strong.'”
“As the subway train rumbled on, I was lost in the words of Ms. Walker’s heartfelt poetry. A few weeks later I again became aware of the placard with ‘Lineage’ on it. This time, I scribbled down the poem on a piece of paper, and when I got home, I went to my piano and composed music for it. This was the beginning of the larger work, ‘For My People’.”
For My People was premiered with choral arrangements by James Ballard in April, 2011 at James Madison University. Members of the Cranford High School Concert Choir were present at the West-Coast premiere in March of 2013 at San Diego State University as part of their Southern California tour last year.
“The students were excited to learn that Randy Klein is a New York-based composer and that soloist Aurelia Williams grew up in Plainfield. It was a near-hometown connection and we were 3,000 miles from home,” said Anthony Rafaniello, Cranford High School Choral Director.
A connection between Rafaniello and Klein was made thanks to the recommendation of San Diego State Choral Director, Patrick Walders. Arrangements to perform the work at Cranford High School began over the summer.
“We’re very excited to bring For My People, Randy Klein, and Aurelia Williams to Cranford and it’s an amazing opportunity for our students to learn from two working professionals in the field,” said Rafaniello.
Besides music students, some language arts classes will study Margaret Walker’s poetry and writing. Klein and Williams will discuss their process in composing and interpreting the poem in a seminar during school on the 18th and then present the concert with the choir that evening.
The concert is made possible, in part, through the generosity of the Cranford High School Friends of Performing Arts. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18 in Cranford High School auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public. Photos were taken by Dawn Nicholas.