Come experience 300-year journey
Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2016
Natchez has been a special place for me since I first stepped foot here back in 2010 for the Natchez Festival of Music.
The area as a whole is a place of rich historical significance and preternatural beauty, whether it’s the painstakingly restored homes and buildings in downtown, the beautiful grounds on the many plantation houses in the country, the haunting (and probably haunted) ruins throughout the surrounding area or even the abandoned buildings and machinery along Highway 61, so poignantly juxtaposed against wildflowers and vast fields.
Beyond this though, it is the people who are most important part to me. It was startling at first for me to experience the warmth and hospitality with which people opened their doors, hearts and liquor cabinets for festival’s visiting artists. And each spring I am here has seen the formation of new relationships as well as the deepening of old ones. I was even made an honorary citizen of the town last year and now proud to call myself a “Natchoosian.”
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To celebrate the 300th anniversary, I wanted not only to draw on some of the cultural influences of the area such as French, English and Spanish music, but to feature music which has personal significance for me. For the past few years, I’ve had a strong focus on American music, which has slowly steered me back toward one of my first loves — arranging and composition. I will feature several of my arrangements of famous American Songbook tunes which were all inspired by various people and experiences I encountered here at the Natchez Festival.
I have chosen this performance to make the world premiere of one of my first compositions, the “Variations on a Southern Melody.” This tune, which was probably a spiritual, is a favorite of mine and is often heard under the title “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus.” I felt that it was important to feature this work on the program, not only because the spiritual was large part of slave culture in America, but also a big part of American music in general, as the genre made its way from the fields of the South to the concert halls of the North. The setting takes it through a number of transformations where I try to capture not only the tune’s starkness and angularity, but also the comfort and peace which was affected through these songs.
Aside from my own music, the program will highlight the music of Woodville native William Grant Still, with his evocative “Three Visions” as well as one of the most beloved and iconic works of any American composer, the Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin.
My hope is that it will be a sort of journey through music (not lasting 300 years so don’t worry) which will give a little glimpse into the history, cultural influences and beauty of Natchez, Mississippi and beyond, and I hope that you can come and travel along with me.
The 300 Year Journey will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 12 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 305 South Commerce St. a. A cash bar will be available before the event beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Natchez Historic Foundation. Admission is $20 ($10 for students K-12, adult with K-12 student, college and active military with current ID.)
For tickets to The 300 Year Journey and all other events, please visit us online at www.natchezfestivalofmusic.com, call 601-446-6631, at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, 640 S. Canal St. or at the door.
Other upcoming Natchez Festival of Music events include The Inspirations of Glen Ballard with the Community Fellowship Choir on Saturday; Rockin’ On the River at Bowie’s on Tuesdays during the month of May; Rossini, Puccini, and Martinis on May 11 and May 18; Blues, Brews and Soul; Impressions and Expressions: Classical Music of our time on May 19; The British Invasion of Natchez on May 20; “Show Boat” on May 21; Ruby Elzy, The Jewel of Mississippi on May 25, A Tribute to “Gone With the Wind” on May 26, Serenata, An Evening in Old Spanish Natchez on May 27, and “Carmen” on May 28.
For more information, please visit www.natchezfestivalofmusic.com
Jonathan Levin is a pianist for The Natchez Festival of Music and creator of “The 300 Year Journey.”