As the virtuosic Baltimore beatboxer Shodekeh produced a kinetic rhythmic foundation, and an orchestra of professional and student musicians from around the city provided the harmonic foundation, a chorus of young voices rose from the pews at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church Saturday afternoon and sang:
"One day this all will change; treat people the same; stop with the violence; down with the hate."
That song by Jewish reggae artist Matisyahu summed up the message of the free Concert for Peace organized by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra following the unrest in the city after the death of Freddie Gray. The event was held a few blocks from Mondawmin Mall, where the most protracted rioting began on April 27.
"This takes us out of our isolated world," said BSO bassist Jonathan Jensen. "Finding ways to do it more often would be great."
In addition to about 20 BSO players, Saturday's concert featured a large contingent of OrchKids (the BSO's educational program in city schools); the OrchKids' "Bucket Band" provided pre-concert entertainment outside the church, including a number with the repeated, shouted refrain "One Baltimore."
Students from the Peabody Institute, Baltimore School for the Arts and Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras took part, along with singers from the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, City College and the choirs of Mt. Lebanon and New Shiloh Baptist Church. Performers nearly outnumbered the multiracial, multi-generational audience.
Midway way through the concert, Maryland House of Delegates member Barbara A. Robinson gave a brief address.
"Baltimore is far more than what the media portrayed us to be," Robinson said to hearty applause. "We have our issues. … But we are a city of talent, a city of purpose, a city of greatness."
After the concert, Robinson said the event was a reminder of "why we need the arts back in the schools." Referring to students involved in the recent disturbances, she added, "If there had been a violin or a trumpet in their hands, there wouldn't have been rioting."
The concert encompassed Harry Belafonte's "Turn the World Around"; Rihanna's "Stay," ardently delivered by Randi Roberts, who will enter Peabody next year; and, with rousing audience participation, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," orchestrated the night before by BSO assistant conductor Nicholas Hersh, who also played cello in the orchestra.
For the finale, BSO music director Marin Alsop led the combined forces in an abridged version of the finale to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 that was greeted with loud cheers.
After the concert, a beaming Tracy Davis-Hunt, associate minister at Mt. Lebanon, described the gathering as "a very good blend of the community. It was wonderful to have people from the BSO and Peabody, which are not that far away from here," she said.
The BSO's principal horn Phil Munds, who joined four orchestra colleagues for an impromptu performance at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues on Friday, said the goal of Saturday's peace concert was "to make connections with people, and not just for today."
"I hope this will be the start of something new," Munds said. "Like the [Twitter] hashtag says, 'One Baltimore.' That's what I'm thinking. Everybody's fighting for this city."