“Hold onto me, and I’ll hold on to you. I said, hold onto me and I’ll hold on to you,” spoken by guest artist Joe Davis, these words resonated loud and clear throughout Boe Chapel as he recited a poem about the importance of love and unity. On Oct. 26, Davis, amongst others, participated in the experience of the St. Olaf Chapel Choir and Black Ensemble concert. Titled, “We Shall Walk in Peace: A Musical Journey on Racial Reconciliation,” the concert aimed to acknowledge the hardships of racism and to seek justice through music.
Assistant Professor of Music, Director of Chapel Choir, and Advisor for Black Ensemble Tesfa Y Wondemagegnehu, had asked his group of students what they thought the theme for the concert should be. Julia Moss ‘23, a member of Chapel Choir since her second year, wrote in an email to The Olaf Messenger that the theme of racial reconciliation “was the popular choice amongst the choir.” After much hard work and preparation, both choirs were ready to create an unforgettable experience.
The concert started at precisely 7:30 p.m. with the prelude “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” performed by a student string quartet. It was followed by W.E.B. DuBois’ opening prayer titled “Give Us Grace,” recited by Black Ensemble and Chapel Choir member Chris McDonald ‘24. Soloist Dayo Ogunmodede ‘23 stunned the crowd with her outstanding performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” receiving a much deserved standing ovation.
Readings and anthems of Black authors and musicians, such as Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Jeffrey Ames, and others were either recited or sung by the choirs, allowing for a unique and diverse program.
Most inspiring was Wondemagegnehu’s personal testimony about his trip through various states as he sought to understand the roots of his identity and his role in the community. Wondemagegnehu started almost every rehearsal by telling a different story of his trip, connecting them to the themes and messages of each piece. The audience understood with nods, claps, and tears that this concert marked his journey coming full circle. “On the other side is the new world,” Wondemagegnehu said. “To get there, we have to wrestle with the fact that we are fighting the algorithmic imprisonment of our minds.” The main way we can move past this “blazing evil,” according to him, is by helping each other.
By the end of the concert, the audience had gone through a rollercoaster of emotions. To finish this memorable night, Wondemagegnehu organized an open-discussion panel with Davis, Vice President for Equity of Inclusion María Pabón Gautier, Martin Olague ’04, and lawyer and social justice activist Nekima Levy-Armstrong.
Students, faculty, staff, and other community members left the chapel feeling renewed, some with aspirations to create change in their own communities, and all holding on to each other in unity.