Maine Coast Semester 22 alumna Emily Isaacson is full of music. Artistic director of Maine’s Oratorio Chorale and the Maine Chamber Ensemble; associate artistic director of the Portland Bach Festival; and director of choral activities at Clark University, the prize-winning chorale conductor’s career is a crescendo delighting ever-bigger audiences.
Boys Camp Nature Program Director Fred Cichocki and Elementary School at Chewonki Teacher Emily Bell-Hoerth are singers in Isaacson’s Oratorio Chorale, which put on an awe-inspiring concert in May called “Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual.”
The last in the chorale’s season of five programs, this was a musical history of American spirituals from pre-emancipation folk singing through 20th-century gospel music. Isaacson said about the program, “People keep asking me, ‘What is a largely white choir in Maine doing singing spirituals?’ But if we can only sing music that is part of our direct cultural heritage, then does that mean we can’t sing Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Piazzolla, or Mozart? Or we can’t perform music from 300 years ago?”
“Whenever I am preparing a concert, I always study the political, historical, and social context, as well as the performance tradition around the music,” she explained. “That preparation does not change just because this music is in English and from my home country. In fact, it pushes me to dig deeper, past my own assumptions, to understand why this music is so powerful.”
Representatives from the historic Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland spoke before the concert, and a Bowdoin professor presented readings by Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Dubois, and others.