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Detroit’s musical gem, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, reaches out to new audiences with holiday concert


For Alice McAllister Tillman, performing with the Brazeal Dennard Chorale is a moment of grace. Since she started with the Chorale in high school, singing became a way to express herself, share her joy and her pain, to tell her story in a way that resonated in her soul and with her audience.

Fast forward a few years, and Tillman still finds inspiration in this iconic Detroit chorale. The award-winning Brazeal Dennard Chorale is now under her direction; she is the newly christened conductor for this visionary group of singers who are performing their annual holiday concert Dec. 6 at Marygrove College for the first time.

TillmanThis is the 44th annual Holiday Concert for the 40-plus member group, which will honor this festive time with a concert including carols, classical works and sacred Negro spirituals, music that the Chorale has sought to preserve along with the mission of its legendary founder.

Named after its legendary founder, the late Brazeal Dennard, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale’s mission is to “remember, discover, preserve, and share the Negro spiritual as a part of the artistic community, and to rediscover and perform significant choral works by African American composers.” The Chorale, whose members represent all walks of life, won gold and silver medals at the 2012 World Choir Games.

For Tillman, Chorale Executive Director Yvonne Turner and the other Chorale members, this concert is more than a single performance. It is one of many that link together over the decades, holding all those who have sung with this spectacular group together. It is a bond that ties them together musically, serving as spiritual food throughout their lives.

“We have more than 40 voices now – new voices, old ones that have come back,” Turner said. “We are together because we all want the same thing. When we come to rehearsal, it’s all about the music. It’s about preserving and sharing the legacy of Brazeal Dennard. It’s about sharing it with people and keeping his mission alive.”

For Tillman, expressing herself through singing is extremely meaningful. Supporting her mentor and this group of singers is that much more so.

“This Chorale is a gem in Detroit, in the United States and in North America. It is one that needs to be supported in a way that reflects its greatness and the greatness of its mission,” Tillman said.

FounderAs such, Tillman feels a certain weight with her new position as conductor. Female conductors are rare in classical music as well as in chorale. Tillman, who has performed professionally since she was a child, knew Dennard during her years at Northwestern High School and she believes in his mission with a passion that still burns hot.

There, Dennard produced award-winning choirs as director of the Fine Arts department. Tillman, a noted soprano, loved his magical teaching methods, his fascination with music of all kinds as well as his discipline toward his art.

“It was there that my love for classical music and ensemble singing began,” said Tillman, who also may sing during the Holiday Concert. “Being a part of The Brazeal Dennard Chorale and helping to fulfill the mission of the organization is an awesome responsibility.”

Having the Holiday Concert at Marygrove College also is a special moment for the Chorale. Like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale hopes to reconnect with its Detroit roots, find new members, share its talents with the city and ignite a connection with Detroit and its neighborhoods.

An added attraction to the Holiday Concert will be selections performed by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale Young People’s Chorus, featuring male and female singers ranging in age from eight to 18.

“We are preparing literature that is challenging and exquisitely beautiful,” said Tillman, who will be conducting the Chorale for the first time in concert. “The repertoire will demonstrate the Chorale’s ability to be sensitive to the specific needs of each piece and genre represented. We look forward to presenting a program that will be enjoyed by all.”

ChoraleGeneral admission tickets for the 4 p.m. Holiday Concert performance are $25. Concert tickets can be purchased in advance by contacting the Chorale office at 313-331-0378 or online at Tickets also can be purchased the afternoon of the concert at the entrance of the Marygrove College Sacred Heart Chapel. Marygrove College is located at 8425 West McNichols (off Wyoming) in northwest Detroit.

“The Chorale is extremely excited about performing at Marygrove College because it gets us back into the community,” said Turner, who also sings soprano in the group. “We want to give the community—especially people who may not know about the Chorale—a chance to hear us, see us and be a part of us.”

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