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JCSU Choir members pinch themselves in “I Dream”

Members of the JCSU Concert Choir performed in Opera Carolina’s production of the rhythm and blues opera “I DREAM” by Douglas Tappin in Charlotte’s Knight Theater May 18-25, 2018.

I  Dream focuses on the final 36 hours of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, with daydreams of his childhood and flashbacks to the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. The story of courage and leadership in the face of a higher calling examines the ways Dr. King confronted the injustices of society through love and humanity.

Tappin, the composer, and Maestro James Meena, the conductor, auditioned choir members to perform solo lines. Nine students were selected: Deomunique Abrams ’19, Audria Brooks ’19, Anna Shisso ’19, Taequan Owens ’19, Jessica Lanier ’21, Mercury Carver ’21, Meshac Casmir ’18, Nathaniel Cunningham ’21 and Laura Salinas ’20. They performed a number of solos as well as group songs.

“My experience in Douglas Tappin’s ‘I Dream’ was nothing less than amazing,” said Abrams. “To have a small part in something so huge meant everything to me.”

This was not Abrams’ or the rest of the choir’s first professional experience. The JCSU Concert Choir joined the Opera Carolina Chorus for the Andrea Bocelli World Tour Concert Friday, February 9, 2018 at the Spectrum Center. They also performed “Porgy and Bess” on the stage of the world-wide Spoleto Festival in 2016, and were lauded by the New York Times as well as local outlets for their rich range and talent.

“That experience was amazing, but being in ‘I Dream,’ which focuses on the last 36 hours of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, was more relatable,” Abrams said. “I felt it personally, from the music and the lyrics of each song to the police brutality, which our people still encounter today. A chill went over my shoulders at each performance, from the March on Selma to The Gala scenes.”

To prepare for the show, choir members received special training from Dr. Frank Williams, their customary accompanist, and Dr. Shawn Allyce-White, the choir director, on each song for about three weeks. They also had several extended rehearsals with Maestro Meena and the rest of the Opera Carolina chorus. As the Spring 2018 semester closed, the schedule ramped up, with the choir running through the entire production complete with principals and Tappin present at each one.

“Mr. Tappin is one of the most talented persons ever,” Abrams said. “The lyrics were pure genius. His swagger and soul encouraged each person to feel more comfortable performing.”

An especially memorable scene of the show was the re-enactment of the first march on Selma. It featured the song “Selma (No More!)” and started with a broken hum, as characters had been brutally beaten by police and were picking each other up. Principal performer Darnell Ishmael began to sing “No one’s gonna keep us down no more, no one’s going to keep us down no more,” and many audience members’ faces matched those of the cast’s, shining with tears.

“This entire opera was a heartfelt one,” Abrams said. “It came to Charlotte and to our lives at the right moment. I feel very blessed to have been a part of it; it was one of the best moments of my life.”

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