“It was amazing for all involved.” That’s how Bill Naydan, director of choral activities and chairman of the music department at Hatboro-Horsham High School described Feb. 4 at the high school – a day when students interacted with a Grammy Award-winning singing group, including discussion by group members about the story behind a “powerful” ballad, and worked first-hand with a prize-winning composer/musician on an original composition.“It was a thrill to have this happen to me and my students,” he said.

The Concert Choir – about 110 students in grades nine through 12 – worked during the school day with New York city composer M. Roger Holland, who last year was commissioned to write “The Present” through an Innovative Learning Grant from the Hatboro-Horsham Educational Foundation.

“He is a great musician and the students were in awe of his talents and insights into music,” said Naydan, who had seen and heard Holland at a music conference in Hartford CT. “He gave them insights into his interpretation of the work and taught them about the tempo, phrasings and dynamics as he envisioned them.” The grant, awarded to Naydan, made it possible for the work to be written and for the composer to be brought into the classroom.

Bill Naydan, right, director of choral activities and chairman of the music department at Hatboro-Horsham High School, presents M. Roger Holland Jr. and the high school concert choir which performed Holland’s composition, “The Present” just before the Sweet Honey In The Rock concert. The piece was commissioned through a grant by the Hatboro-Horsham Educational Foundation which sponsored the concert.

The student choir performed the original work, as well as another Holland piece, “Lord, Make Me an Instrument,” at the beginning of a concert that night by Sweet Honey In The Rock, an a Grammy Award-winning a capella ensemble of African-American women. Holland conducted the students in the debut of “The Present,” then accompanied them on piano for the other number.
After working with Holland during the school day, the Concert Choir rehearsed a Sweet Honey song called “Wanting Memories” written by group member Yseye M. Barnwell. “I was about eight bars into conducting and looked up to see someone on stage,” said Naydan. “It was her.” Barnwell complimented the students, who performed the piece at the evening concert.

“I believe my students benefited greatly from the experience of singing works with the composers in attendance,” he said.
The “amazing” day also found all music, English and Social Studies classes at a Sweet Honey daytime rehearsal during which the group practiced “The Ballad of Harry T. Moore.” It is the real-life story – a piece Naydan called “powerful” – of the murder of a civil rights activist in Florida. “Sweet Honey explained and performed the ballad,” said Naydan.

“The students were moved by it.” Sweet Honey In The Rock’s appearance was sponsored by the Hatboro-Horsham Educational Foundation in celebration of Black History month. The internationally acclaimed ensemble, which had performed the night before at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., presents a wide variety of styles, from the Blues, traditional gospel hymns and reggae, to Hip Hop and jazz improvisation with songs that address topics like spirituality, racism, freedom, civil liberties and domestic violence.

Article by Bull’s Eye Communication

Photos by Nancy Pavarano