‘Gospel Voices of OC’ back at Musco Center with new script, just in time for Juneteenth
As Juneteenth approaches, provoking reflection on the history of Black Americans and the struggles they’ve endured on the path toward freedom, an extravaganza of Black history, art, music and dance returns Saturday to Chapman University with new stories to tell.
“Gospel Voices of OC” debuted last year at Musco Center for the Arts on the Orange college campus, where more than 100 performers by diverse artists took viewers on a narrative trip through history, showing how centuries of hardship could not suppress a resilient Black culture.
The program was created by Costa Mesa’s Debora Wondercheck, a cellist, music professor and founder of the Arts and Learning Conservatory, a nonprofit that brings music lessons and arts education to thousands of underserved Southern California students, regardless of race, identity or socioeconomic status.
Wondercheck recalled a tumultuous 2020 — after the deaths of Black citizens George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, a rising trend of hate crimes against Asian Americans and the rash of demonstrations that broke out nationwide and in Orange County.
“I finally said, you know what, there has to be a program that can bridge this Orange County community and is done in a way that is celebratory, where people are going to be clapping their hands, stomping their feet and feeling unified,” she recalled Wednesday.
For the following year, she collaborated with Black choreographers, choir directors and scholars to create a multisensory performance that encompassed a journey from Africa, through the Atlantic Ocean’s middle passage to early America, where bondage awaited.
That story touched on the Harlem Renaissance, New Orleans jazz and the Civil Rights era, moments in history when the creativity, intelligence and perseverance of Black people spawned movements that forever changed American culture. Woven throughout the narrative is a veritable songbook of gospel music, which communicated powerful messages in the church and beyond.
“I created ‘Gospel Voices of OC’ in honor of enslaved men and women of faith who, along the way, paved the way for the progress of African Americans — gospel gave them strength,” Wondercheck said, adding that June is also Black Music Month.
The inaugural event was a smashing success with more than 700 people turning out to fill the venue. Wondercheck is hoping for the same turnout, or better, this weekend.
While Saturday’s performance maintains the same format as last year, not a single piece of music, song or choreography will be repeated, its creator said. This year’s brand-new script begins in America in 1865, at the end of the Civil War to the present day.
The spirit of the original production, however, will remain the same.
“Honestly, it’s a feast for the senses — it feels like a Sunday gospel brunch with a Broadway quality,” Wondercheck said, hinting at a finale sure to bring the audience to its feet.
“This will be an opportunity to come and experience African American culture at its finest and feel like you’re part of something special.”
“Gospel Voices of OC” takes place Saturday at 7 p.m. at Chapman University’s Musco Center for the Arts, 1 University Drive, Orange. Tickets range from $20 to $80. To purchase tickets, visit muscocenter.org or call (844) 626-8726. To learn about the Arts and Learning Conservatory, visit artsandlearning.org.
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