Women´s Choir performs on the OHS auditorium stage.
Credit: Rae Barry, 42Fifty

On Nov. 4, choir students performed their first performance since COVID, directed under Oswego High School teacher Mr. Mark Baglione, who came to OHS this year after previously teaching at Oak Lawn High School. While cultural music makes an appearance in a majority of the Oswego choir’s performances, this year’s song choice caused conversation amongst choir students.

The fall concert included performances from Stay Tuned, Concert Choir, the Sweet Temptations, Ambiance, Oswego Commotion, Women’s Choir, BaberCued, and Acapella Choir, and ended with a finale performance by all. Songs transitioned from odes to autumn, upbeat and modern tunes, to cultural hymns and African American spirituals. 

At this year’s concert, Women’s Choir performed an excerpt from Ramsey Lewis’s 1996 “Wade in the Water,” a rendition of an African American spiritual. 

This African-American spiritual originates from Antebellum era and was originally composed and sung by enslaved African Americans. Its history stems from the Underground Railroad, where it was often used to warn and guide the enslaved people who were on the run. Later, within the early 1900s, African American musicians began to incorporate spirituals, including “Wade in the Water,” into new age music, creating a genre of concert spirituals. These transformed and interpreted spirituals were performed by African American musicians, allowing for impactful messages of history and ancestry to be incorporated into classical Western music.

The song’s roots caused discomfort among choir students after learning it would be performed, given the racial demographics of the choir. 

“I can see where they’re coming from in the sense that singing a song traditionally for the African American enslaved…might feel a little uncomfortable for a choir full of [mostly] white women,” choir student and junior Laithen Weber said.

Women’s Choir singer and senior Vanessa Valerio felt similarly.

“I think it was very odd we were singing the song as a majority white choir,” Valerio said. 

While some students shared their concern, Mr. Baglione explained the lessons he teaches through the music he directs, as well as the importance he finds behind incorporating cultural pieces in his concerts.

“When a new piece of music is introduced, or a new style of music is introduced, I’ll talk about its background, introduce a little about where it comes from, who wrote it, why it was written, to the best ability of what we can…every piece of music allows an opportunity to dig a little deeper into those backgrounds and cultures so that we can appreciate and find the beauty,” Baglione explained.

And for Mr. Baglione, this concert was no exception. 

¨One of my major philosophies as a choral director and as a professional musician as myself… is that you should be exposed to the entire world of choir music,” Baglione said. ¨It’s not stuff we’re used to hearing everyday, but it is amazing music, beautiful music, incredibly powerful and moving music, has stories to tell and can teach us a lot about the world at large.”

Additional reporting by Delaney Holman, 42Fifty Editor.

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