The New York Philharmonic was honored to join Bronx Arts Ensemble, Van Cortlandt House Museum, and Van Cortlandt Park Alliance in co-presenting Honor & Praise: Celebrating the Influence of the African Diaspora on Global Culture, a free event held in Van Cortlandt Park on September 29 that featured performances by musicians from the Philharmonic and Bronx Arts Ensemble (BAE), plus a panel discussion on the intersection of music, culture, and Black identity.
The event was held near the Enslaved African and Kingsbridge Burial Grounds, the resting place of those who lived and worked on the Van Cortlandt plantation; you can learn more about the grounds, which were publicly identified this past Juneteenth, here.
Philharmonic violinists Fiona Simon and Sharon Yamada, violist Robert Rinehart, and cellist Alexei Yupanqui Gonzales performed Dr. Trevor Weston’s Juba, and BAE flutist Theresa Norris, oboist Marsha Heller, clarinetist Mitchell Kriegler, bassoonist Atsuko Sato, and horn player Kyra Sims performed Valerie Coleman’s Umoja and Coleman’s arrangement of Enoch Mankayi Sontonga’s Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. The Philharmonic musicians, including bassist Rion Wentworth, joined BAE players in performing Dorothy Rudd Moore’s Transcension, composed in 1986 in honor of the first observance of a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the US. The interdisciplinary panel of scholars included ethnomusicologist Dr. Fredara Hadley, cultural anthropologist Dr. Raymond Codrington, and Dr. Weston.
The event opened with Tambiko, a traditional African libation ceremony, led by Elder Mahalet Susann Miles (a deacon and choir member at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church), Rev. Rhonda Akanke McClean-Nur, and percussionist Baba Don Eaton. In Tambiko the pouring of water is a symbol of the continuity of life, offered to ancestors as convocation for auspicious events, while calling their names in respect. For people of African descent, ancestors are the focus of profound respect, a source and symbol of lineage, ethical life, service, and achievement. Throughout the ceremony, those gathered were invited to repeat the word “Ashe” (meaning “So it is”).