IN UNISON Chorus | St. Louis Public Radio

IN UNISON Chorus

Members of IN UNISON Chorus rehearse for a recent concert. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley is seen, bottom center.  2/28/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Symphony formed IN UNISON Chorus for a 1994 concert meant to help bridge the black church and the overwhelmingly white world of classical music. Twenty-five years later, the chorus is still singing. Each season it plays two concerts at Powell Hall with the orchestra, plus one a cappella performance and occasional guest appearances, like at the annual season-opening concert at Forest Park.

The chorus specializes in music by African-Americans, from 19th-century spirituals arranged for 120-voice chorus to contemporary gospel and pieces by black composers. The melding of black-American and European classical styles is heard vividly in the finale of the chorus’s February concert, the pathbreaking “Gospel Mass” by IN UNISON’s founding director, Robert Ray.

IN UNISON Chorus rehearsing at Powell Hall. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley, lower left. 2/22/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

As St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians file into the Powell Hall stage door facing Delmar Boulevard, they’re striding along the boundary that divides a segregated city.

With IN UNISON Chorus, orchestra leaders made an effort in 1994 to bridge that divide and welcome more African-Americans into the predominantly white world of European classical music.

The St. Louis Symphony appears to be the only American orchestra to maintain a second full-sized chorus dedicated to music by African-American and African composers. Its members largely come from about three dozen black churches in and around St. Louis, where SLSO orchestra members also perform recitals throughout the year.

Far Lft, Brian Owens; Middle Lft, Sara Michaelis; Middle Rt, Stanley Johnson; Far Rt, Sonya Murray
Alex Heuer

The St. Louis Symphony and Maryville University collaborated to create an 8-week music therapy program called “Life Compositions” to help students at Confluence Academy Old North deal with the challenges and trauma of growing up in urban neighborhoods. Graduate students in Maryville’s music therapy program worked with the youth to write and record songs, which they will highlight in a concert titled “Courage Counts” on June 4.

Dilip Vishwanat

The St. Louis Symphony’s IN UNISON Chorus will perform its annual community concert Sunday, April 26 at Greater Grace Church in Ferguson.

Founded 20 years ago under the leadership of Robert Ray, the chorus became a permanent staple with the symphony after a single performance. Directed by Kevin McBeth, the chorus consists of participants from around 40 churches and features music that reflects African and African American culture.

When IN UNISON was founded, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus had already earned a nationwide reputation

Wintley Phipps' commanding voice joins In Unison Chorus

Feb 19, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 19, 2013 - When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed the crowd assembled for the March on Washington in August 1963, he spoke of a dream, but also a symphony:

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together," King said.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 19, 2012 - The word Gospel is a reference, of course, to the story of Jesus of Nazareth, but the word literally means “good news.”

After facing the tragic reality of Newtown, Conn., good news seems in short supply in a season known for its glad tidings. So the St. Louis Symphony’s Gospel Christmas concert could not be a more fitting and beautiful way to mark 2012’s holiday season.