Mobley Contributed / Liz Linder

PORTLAND — After the Black Lives Matter protests last year, Emily Isaacson, artistic director of Classical Uprising, and internationally known countertenor Reginald Mobley wanted to find a music program that would promote healing and “create a safe space for dialogue,” she said.

Isaacson and Mobley decided that a re-imagined “Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual,” a multimedia concert that traces the history of African-American spirituals from Pre-Emancipation to the present day, would create that space.

The free show, which will be streamed live online Feb. 6, was originally performed by the Oratorio Chorale in February 2017, but has been reworked to reflect the state of today’s racial unrest and inequities, Isaacson said.

Music, she said, “is a unique and powerful tool for healing because it operates on an intellectual, emotional, spiritual and communal level simultaneously – all just by opening your ears.”

“In a year as tense and fraught with division as the last one, I believe music can offer a non-threatening space for dialogue around difficult conversations,” she said.

The concert features Mobley, Jonathan Woody, JanaeSound and the Oratorio Chorale, along with visual art by Portland’s Daniel Minter and historical commentary by Judith Casselberry, an associate professor of Africana studies at Bowdoin College.


Woody Contributed / Keith Race

Traditional spirituals, such as “Wade in the Water,” “Over My Head,” “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” and “Mary Had a Baby,” will be performed along with newer pieces, such as “How Much Longer Must We Wait,” a piece written six months ago, and poetry from Boston’s poet laureate, Porsha Olayiwola.

“You can’t listen to this music and not feel inspired, feel hope, feel pain,” Isaacson said. “It will be great to be up there offering this music of hope and inspiration in such a difficult year.”

Woody, a Grammy-nominated singer and composer, said spirituals powerfully illustrate American history.

“Black spirituals in American life have had many meanings, from literal encoded messages of survival to expressions of dignity and grace, and have had an outsized influence on the many subsequent genres of music that we call American,” he said.

The concert is part of Black Voices Matter, a nationwide effort by composers, conductors and other music and performing artists to promote Black music, root out racist material, hire a diverse range of artists and incorporate anti-racism in choral and community education.

To complement the concert, a website,, has been set up with anti-racism education opportunities, including artist talks and lists of recommended books, music, movies and podcasts, as well as information about important sites in Maine’s Black history, including  and ways to get involved locally.

JanaeSound Contributed / Michael Henson

“My hope is people will come for the incredible music, but it will also pose questions and a desire to learn more, so we wanted to be able to further that dialogue,” Isaacson said.

Classical Uprising was created last year through the merger of Oratorio Chorale and Portland Bach Experience with goal of providing immersive classical music experiences. “Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual” is the first of several programs the organization is holding this year centered on the themes of connection, hope and inspiration.

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