About the Work
The Children’s March is a dramatic work that mixes song and narration to tell the story of a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Era, the Children’s Crusade of 1963, when children in Birmingham, Alabama, marched to challenge segregation and were met by a violent response. The piece, written by Andrew Bleckner and librettist Charlotte Blake Alston, both of Philadelphia, was originally commissioned and first performed by Singing City in 2013. The Commonwealth Youthchoirs version will feature high school students singing the adult voice parts with younger singers portraying the children.
Composer Andrew Bleckner notes: “The process of creating music for the Children’s March was for me a uniquely emotional and fulfilling spiritual journey. My approach was theatrical, and my aim was to help narrate the historical events in a clear manner, and to amplify the emotions surrounding them. I weaved together a collage of musical styles and songs that often gravitate and borrow from Freedom Songs – the folk music of the Civil Rights Era. The story is a universal one of self-empowerment in the face of oppression, and I hope I have captured the essence of this struggle, from the pain and bitterness of discrimination to the triumphant call to empowerment to the transcendental hymns of freedom and joy.”
“I thought it important for young people to know that they have the bravery and power to help change our society, and to see how singing helped make that change possible,” says Steven Fisher, artistic director for Commonwealth Youthchoirs.
As Freeman Hrabowski, who was one of the children marching in Birmingham in 1963 put it, “It was eye opening to see how Americans of all races responded to the way we, as children, were treated in those demonstrations. Such an experience told me that our voices — the voices of the young — were significant, and that young people could think and act responsibly, and that our actions could change the course of history and the world.”
Learn more about the history here
The Performance at Girard College
May 2 is an important date because it marks the beginning of the Children’s Crusade in 1963. Tuesday, May 2, 2017, is also the date that hundreds of singers in Keystone State Boychoir, Pennsylvania Girlchoir and Find Your Instrument! will come together to perform this work at 7 pm at Girard College, 2101 S. College Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19121.
Making Difficult History More Understandable
Because the work portrays a violent episode, a committee of CY staff and CY parents who are educators are developing age-appropriate lessons to help the singers make sense of the violence referenced in the work and understand its historical context. Singers will also hear from local Civil Rights leaders, such as Kenneth Salaam, nicknamed “Freedom Smitty,” about the part Freedom songs played in Civil Rights protests. He will be joined by other members of the Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters, who helped lead the Civil Rights Movement in Philadelphia. Commonwealth Youthchoirs, the parent organization of Keystone State Boychoir, Pennsylvania Girlchoir, and Find Your Instrument!, received its first National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant for this intergenerational project.