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Concert brings musicians together
Michael Kurth has long been a student of music. As a bassist and composer with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, he has studied most forms and counts himself as an avid fan of many genres.

There was one type of music, however, that he wasn't familiar with - the folk songs of the Gullah Geechee, which developed along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts during slavery.

Kurth became familiar with those songs when an orchestra ensemble was asked to participate in the Smithsonian Institution program, New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music, Saturday at Darien.

"Our community involvement chair came to us with this project about a year and a half ago. Then we started to nail down the specifics of the project," Kurth said.

Kurth's task was to create classical pieces based on the call-and-response songs of the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters of McIntosh County. To do that, he first had to become familiar with the music itself.

He was given several songs documented in the book, "Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands," published by Lydia Parrish in 1942. He also took in recorded performances of the Shouters.

"Griffin Lotson from the Ring Shouters sent me the songs. I watched all of the YouTube videos (of the Shouters). I just thought that it was fantastic," he said.

Kurth went on to create four pieces of music that will be performed Saturday by a seven-piece ensemble of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

"All of the pieces were based on suggestions from Griffin Lotson from 'Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands.' They forwarded along to us rudimentary sheet music. I picked a couple of them and wrote arrangements for our chamber players," he said.

The chamber players will be joined at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Archie B. Myers Sr. Fine Arts Center at the McIntosh Academy in Darien by the Shouters and a community choir of nearly 50 members from various McIntosh County churches and band students from McIntosh Academy.

When it comes to Kurth's pieces, they will first be performed in their original format by the Shouters. Kurth's classical interpretations will follow.

"It was such a logistical challenge, since we are (in Atlanta) and they are in Darien so we decided to let the Ring Shouters perform the pieces in their original form, then they will be performed by the instrumentalists," Kurth said. "The arrangements are different, but you can recognize the melodies."

Kurth is anxious to see how the elements will come together. More than anything else, he hopes that the audience will be given a new appreciation for these songs.

"The music and the art that was born of that culture is still alive in the way that it inspired me to write modern music based on it," Kurth said. "Its ability to inspire the creation of new art means that it is a living art form. It is still creating wonderful art."

If you go

Members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will join the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters to perform "Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands" at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Archie B. Myers Sr. Fine Arts Center at the McIntosh Academy, 8945 U.S. 17, Darien. The free performance is part of the traveling New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music exhibit of the Smithsonian Institution now in Darien, The exhibit is open until Sept. 1 at the historic Darien Hotel, First Street West and Walton Street, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

To hear a sample of the music to be performed Saturday, click here




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