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First Unitarian Choir presents New England premiere of 'Credo' by Margaret Bonds

Richard Duckett

The First Unitarian Choir performance of "Credo" will feature tenor soloist Christon Carney...

WORCESTER — The New England premiere of "Credo," a large-scale, multi-movement work for chorus, baritone soloist, and piano by the late African-American composer Margaret Bonds, will be performed 50 years after her death by the First Unitarian Choir on Sunday.

The performance will be part of the Music Sunday service at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 6 in First Unitarian Church, 90 Main St.

Bonds (1913–1972) grew up in Chicago and spent most of her life in New York City. She wrote many art songs, anthems and cantatas, as well as orchestral works and chamber music, but her work was in obscurity for many years.

In "Credo," Bonds sets the words of the writer, activist and philosopher W.E.B. Du Bois to music as he lays out his vision of a world where pacifism, racial harmony and the inherent worth and dignity of every human being become a reality. 

"I think it's really beautiful and wonderful," said Allegra Martin, interim director of music at First Unitarian Church. "It has some really challenging musical sections and some extremely beautiful parts."

The First Unitarian Choir performance of "Credo" will feature tenor soloist Christon Carney, who regularly performs with the chorus of the Boston Lyric Opera and is a frequent recitalist. He is education and community programs coordinator at Mechanics Hall, and managing director of the new Many Voices: Mechanics Hall Youth Singers.

Bonds was also a virtuoso keyboard player, and was the first Black pianist to solo with the Chicago Symphony.  

"She had a very thorough classical music education," said Martin, who has done some substantial research on Bonds. Bonds also composed pop songs for a while in New York, "and you can really hear all these influences in her work," Martin said.

"Credo" was not published during Bonds' lifetime, although the LA Philharmonic premiered several movements of the work a few months after her death. However, Bonds' music has recently been experiencing a resurgence of popularity, partly due to the work of Hildegard Publishing Company in Worcester, which specializes in music written by women composers, and has been publishing many previously unavailable works by Margaret Bonds in recent years, Martin said.

Nov. 6 will be Martin's first Music Sunday at First Unitarian Church. The church, which has a longstanding musical tradition, holds special Music Sunday programs several times a year.

Martin joined First Unitarian Church as interim director of music in August. Will Sherwood, director of music and organist at First Unitarian Church for 37 years, retired earlier this year. The church is conducting a nationwide search for Sherwood's permanent replacement.

Martin also serves as the music director for Convivium Musicum, a Renaissance choir in Brookline; as the chorus director at the Pioneer Valley Symphony in Greenfield; and as an assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she teaches conducting. Previously, she was director of College Choirs at the College of the Holy Cross.

Martin said she is thrilled to be conducting the New England premiere of one of Bonds' works with the First Unitarian Choir.

Music Sunday Nov. 6 will also introduce First Unitarian's new Young Artist-in-Residence, William Ryan, a violinist, pianist and composer attending Burncoat Senior High School. He is a member of multiple ensembles in Worcester Youth Orchestras and the Joy of Music Program.

The Music Sunday service starts at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 6, with the prelude starting at 10:20 a.m.

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