Atlanta choir director to study indigenous composers and music

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The Trey Clegg Singers, an Atlanta-based multicultural chorus, has received a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to study and perform work by indigenous composers.

The well-known chorus is led by Trey Clegg, former music instructor at Spelman College. The Trey Clegg Singers, which was formed in 2016, performs everything from spirituals to classical and jazz music and musical theater.

The work of indigenous musicians and composers are “among the most underrepresented music in the performing arts,” said Clegg. “If you asked me today to rattle off for you any number of composers and pieces in any style — classical, gospel or R&B, I could do it immediately. If you asked me to name Native Americans, I could name them on my left hand.”

It’s not that it doesn’t exist, it’s just many people just aren’t aware of the depth and impact of indigenous composers and musicians, he said, citing the work of classical composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, who is of Chickasaw and Cherokee heritage.

“His music has made new space for Native voices on American classical stages,” according to an interview on the National Endowment for the Arts website.

Tate’s commissioned work has included groundbreaking compositions such as ”Tracing Mississippi and Ilhoba’.” It was the first work that the San Francisco Symphony Chorus ever sang in a Native American language, according to the interview.

Clegg said he has interviewed Tate several times about his music and some of his pieces will be incorporated in upcoming performances.

The grant will be matched with local contributions.

“One of the problems that the American Indian community has is ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” said Nealie McCormick, of Pelham and chairman of the Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns. “I don’t see (what Clegg is doing) as appropriation if it’s done with respect and credit is given. I would view it as honoring.”

Clegg said mainstream musicians have a responsibility to “do proper research, to honor and give respect” to other cultures.

“White composers have stolen music and ideas over the centuries,” he said. “History has proven that.”

The chorus numbered about 80 before the pandemic and now has about 50 members. Members represent the diversity of Atlanta including race, ethnicity, age and gender identity.

Clegg is a respected solo concert organist and made his European debut in 2003 in a series of recitals throughout Germany, culminating in a featured recital at the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg.

This fall the Trey Clegg Singers will hold two concerts in which they will be performing Cherokee music and with performers from the nations. The first will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 634 W. Peachtree St. The first performances will be done in the Cherokee language, said Clegg.

The second, the popular annual Christmas concert on Dec. 17 will also include indigenous music.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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