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Maya Angelou's Caged Bird Is Set Free To Dream In New York Choral Society's Digital Collaboraon

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Oppression and despair transform to power and spirit through choral composition and choreographic collaboration.

Maya Angelou's Caged Bird Is Set Free To Dream In New York Choral Society's Digital Collaboraon

The New York Choral Society, New York's pioneering symphonic chorus that explores unique collaboration and dynamic repertory, announces their latest digital collaborative project, The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom, as part of their hybrid Reimagine 2021-2022 season. Committed to exploring choral works through a social lens for a modern audience, The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom will premiere on January 17th on the company's website and YouTube page.

This exclusive re-envisioning of poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou's poem Caged Bird by composer Joel Thompson, includes more than 90 voices of the New York Choral Society, choreography and performance by Marjani Forté-Saunders, and the sounds of musical duo Port Mande, and Mezzo-soprano Miastasha Gonzalez-Colón. Embodying liberation through an exploration of confinement, beauty and female power, the short film is layered with elements of social commentary, an empowering celebration of African heritage, and the dreaming of a freer tomorrow.

Angelou's Caged Bird, published in her 1983 poetry collection Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?, describes opposing experiences between two birds: one who is able to live in nature as it pleases, while the other, suffering in captivity, sings to express its longing for freedom. Painting a critical portrait of oppression as a member of the African American community, the work illuminates privilege, entitlement, suffering, and emotional resilience. Thirty-eight years later, the work resonates in our modern-day social construct and seeks to answer the urgent question: Is the caged bird as gorgeous and intriguing once it is free?

In this film collaboration, Forté-Saunders uses modern and contemporary movement to portray a female caged bird (Thomson's composition has transformed the gender of Angelou's caged male bird) to examine how the environment not only shapes the bird's behavior but also how the world around perceives and reacts to her. A clarinet solo gives her a distinct voice, giving wings to the soaring dreams of the oppressed, captured in musical form. While maintaining her remarkable beauty caged or free, does the construct of oppression inform our joy, our strength, and our hope? The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom embodies the complexity of these concepts, and celebrates Black feminine power, resilience, and freedom.

"I created a narrative that allowed me to explore the worlds of the two birds (caged and free), both mighty, and powerful," explains Marjani. "They are both majestic. Lying in the interstitial spaces of hope and despair, their dreaming is a sorcery. What if our daydreaming of better things manifested true freedom? We must not solely react to oppression. We must embody power and spirit."

"This work is an honest reflection of the poem, musically," notes New York Choral Society Music Director David Hayes. "We hear the voice of the bird manifesting in a clarinet solo as the caged bird resorts to singing for its freedom when all other avenues are denied to them. As singing is the most personal of musical instruments, the metaphorical layers of the poem celebrates the human soul seeking to be free, as we all strive to break free of societal chains that perpetuate inequity."

The film will be released on January 17 on both https://www.nychoral.org and the company's YouTube page.


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