Choir came after years of studying roots music

Two decades, ago Linda Tillery heard a choir singing spirituals on a television program and thought, “Wow, I really like that!”

HEARING A CHOIR sing spirituals on TV 20 years ago led Linda Tillery to create the Cultural Heritage Choir. Tillery and the choir perform Nov. 13 at the Sid Williams Theatre.

Two decades, ago Linda Tillery heard a choir singing spirituals on a television program and thought, “Wow, I really like that!”

She began an in-depth exploration of African American music that resulted in a youth choir and eventually the Grammy-nominated Cultural Heritage Choir.

Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir bring their high-energy blend of percussion-driven a capella sounds to the Sid Williams Theatre on Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

The vocal ensemble’s mission is to preserve and share the rich musical traditions of African American roots music with its strong ties to West Africa and the Caribbean.

“Researching African American music was one of the most gleeful things I’ve ever done,” says Tillery. “I went to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., corresponded with scholars, bought field recordings from the Library of Congress, watched old film footage and was fortunate enough to have two really great professors of music as mentors.”

Tillery found the field recordings especially helpful and spent months listening to them.

“I was totally engrossed in the subject,” she admits. “And after about five or six years I finally felt comfortable with the fact that I might know a little bit about African American roots music.”

Like most roots/folk music, the survival of African American music depended on being passed on through oral traditions.

“It’s amazing, all through the United States music was being shared in this way,” says Tillery. “People learned and remembered the words to songs from one state to another.”

Tillery experienced one aspect of this herself as a child attending church services in the California Bay Area. “I remember hearing long-metered hymns — they basically stretch words out over a long period of time,” she explains. “I always say you could wash the dishes, do the laundry and mop the floor before the first word is finished being sung. And everyone knew how to stretch out the words in the same way.

“What’s fascinating is that many African American songs were originally Welsh, Irish or British hymns reconstituted by enslaved Africans.”

Tillery’s studies also exposed her to Shape Note singing where tonal sounds such as do, ra, me, fa, so are used instead of words.

“My research opened up more than one world to me,” she says. “It was overwhelming and exciting to discover all these songs and song forms.”

Tillery formed the Cultural Heritage Choir in 1992, noting that the group grows as their repertoire does.

“Our first really important period came when one of the co-producers of the Vancouver Folk Festival heard about us and invited us to perform,” she says. “We’ve had an ongoing relationship with Canadian festivals for nearly 14 years now.

“For a long time our biggest fan base was in Western Canada,” she continues. “People there really understand what we’re all about. Some of our most memorable moments have been in B.C. and Alberta. We love performing in Canada.”

On this tour, the Cultural Heritage Choir will visit the Comox Valley, Quadra and Salt Spring islands for the first time. If their sound equals even a tiny fraction of the warmth, friendliness and enthusiasm Tillery’s voice had over the telephone, audiences are in for a very special concert.

Tickets for the Comox Valley performance are available at the Sid Williams Theatre. For more information, visit www.sidwilliamstheatre.com or phone 250-338-2430.

Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section. www.paulawild.ca

Just Posted

VIDEO: Humpback whale plays with a log near Comox Harbour

On Dec. 2, Lifeforce Ocean Friends found a four-year-old humpback named “Lorax”… Continue reading

Seasonal favourite comes to the Sid Williams Theatre

Many of us can remember a favourite Christmas gift - what is… Continue reading

Unity Comox Valley hosts serenity service in Comox Thursday

Do you have mixed feelings about the holidays? Unity offers a special… Continue reading

UPDATE: RCMP involved in crash south of Courtenay Saturday night

An RCMP member was involved in a three-vehicle collision on Highway 19… Continue reading

Mental health advocate’s journey with dissociative identity disorder sparks conversation

Coast Mental Health Courage to Come Back Awards nomination deadline Jan. 31

Lawyer for Chinese exec detained by Canada says it’s ‘inconceivable’ she would flee

Meng Wanzhou was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport

Federal government plans examination of coerced sterilization

The Liberals have been pressed for a rapid response to recent reports on the sterilizations

Huitema, Cornelius named 2018 Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

Huitema was captain of Canada’s fourth-place team at this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

VIP packages available for 2019 Boys & Girls Club golf tourney

Ideal Christmas gift for the golfer on your list

Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

New report released at the United Nations climate talks in Poland

Liberal Party moves Trudeau fundraiser from military base

The fundraiser is scheduled for Dec. 19, with tickets costing up to $400

Pipeline protesters arrested at B.C. university

Three protesters were arrested after TRU property allegedly vandalized with red paint

Goodale to ‘examine’ transfer of Rafferty to medium-security prison

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 in the kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori Stafford

‘Abhorrent’ condition of autistic B.C. boy shows flaws in care system: report

‘Charlie’ was underweight and ‘covered in feces’ when he was removed from his mom’s care

Most Read