Goshen College’s 2023 King Celebration honored the life Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 20 with a faculty recital by H. Roz Woll, associate professor of music, and colleague Roy Jennings, pianist, arranger and founder of Arch Angel Productions. 

The recital included music from all African-American composers and spoken word from Jakyra Green, a junior English and secondary education major and a song performed by Nakiyah Kilpatrick, a senior sign language interpreting major.

Initially slated for October 2022, the recital was postponed to GC’s King Celebration due to Jennings being ill. 

With the date change, Woll decided to have the recital’s proceeds and donations go towards GC’s Black Student Union.

Woll and Jennings gave a lecture preceding the recital on Friday, Jan. 13, reflecting on what inspired them to put this recital together. 

“I grew up in a very diverse community,” Woll said. 

“I sang in a choir where we worked on gospel music and African American spirituals with the professionals.”

When Woll arrived at college, she realized the music and those she grew up around weren’t valued. 

“I began to notice tensions in the world,” she said. “I kept asking myself, ‘What do I do with this?’ I saw injustices and atrocities that needed to be addressed.” 

“When I perform music that tells stories as powerful as these, they need to be collaborations, so that’s where Roy comes in,” Woll said.

As Jennings spoke about the recital, he talked about the arrangements that were to be performed the following evening. 

“My work is to make the African American Spiritual genre accessible and continue through generations,” he said. “We have a story to tell that needs to be heard.”

The following evening, Jan. 14, was the recital. Rieth Recital Hall was filled with an audience ready to hear the stories that Woll and Jennings were eager to tell. 

Some stories expressed through the night were accounts of violence experienced by the Black community, but with the hope of overcoming division. 

There were stories of fear, empowerment and a celebration of connection among humanity. 

A piece called “The Lynching” by Robert Owens was a flute improvisation by flutist Lloyd Brodnax King. 

Contributing bassist Kent Dutchersmith said the “shift in emotion was necessary and a powerful moment in the recital. There was a sort of discomfort brought on, a type that someone who’s never experienced such atrocities against them needs to experience. There was a space for reflection and connection.”

The final set of the recital included “Insight” by Oscar Brown III and “Tango” by Dianne Reeves. 

“I chose these works since the narrative surrounding music by African American composers is often just depicted with suffering,” Woll said. 

“These composers wanted to challenge the norm. With these pieces, I want to celebrate our human connection.”