Classical Uprising Presents Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual

  • January 29, 2021

Classical Uprising Presents Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual

Livestream February 6, 2021, at 7pm

Portland, ME - Classical Uprising is pleased to announce Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual, a multimedia concert that traces the history of spirituals from Pre-Emancipation folk singing to the present day, supplemented by a companion webpage with local anti-racist resources. The event is a collaboration between Oratorio Chorale, the Sanford Performing Arts Center, the Handel and Haydn Society and Indigo Arts Alliance. Featured guests include renowned activist-musicians Reginald Mobley, Jonathan Woody, Samuel James, and JanaeSound, with visual art by Daniel Minter and historical commentary by Professor Judith Casselberry. The event will be filmed at the Sanford Performing Arts Center following strict COVID protocols and will be available to stream live and on-demand via YouTube, allowing audiences to attend the free event safely from home. 

First produced by the Oratorio Chorale in February 2017, Amazing Grace received rave reviews, with critics saying, “there isn’t an ensemble in Portland – or anywhere, really – that couldn’t re-energize itself, and its audience, by periodically jettisoning the supposed rules of classical concert presenting, and offering programs as inventive, enlightening and moving as this one” (Allan Kozinn, Portland Press Herald). American spirituals have long been a favorite of music audiences, but their value is not just as objects of beauty but as powerful storytellers about our shared history as Americans. “The genre of the American spiritual has tremendous power and potency as an illustration of American history,” explains Jonathan Woody. “Black spirituals in American life have had many meanings, from literal encoded messages of survival to expressions of dignity and grace, and have had an outsized influence on the many subsequent genres of music that we call American.”

In 2020, against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests, Reginald Mobley and Classical Uprising Artistic Director Emily Isaacson wondered if a reimagined version of the production could facilitate constructive, respectful discourses in the community today. 

“Music is a unique and powerful tool for healing because it operates on an intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and communal level simultaneously–all just by opening your ears,” says Isaacson. “In a year as tense and fraught with division as the last one, I believe music can offer a non-threatening space for dialogue around difficult conversations.” 

Classical Uprising aims to strengthen communities through music. As part of the performing arts community, Classical Uprising is committed to the anti-racism practices outlined in Black Voices Matter, an initiative to which Mobley contributed that includes hiring Black artists, contextualizing Black music, and educating its audience about their state’s and country’s history of racism. 

As a companion to the concert, Amazing Grace includes a webpage of anti-racism learning opportunities including artist talks; recommended reading, podcast, music, movie, and documentary lists; highlights of historical sites in Maine pertinent to the Black experience; and ways to connect to Maine-based advocacy organizations. This resource will be shared with educators throughout the state to enhance curriculum, and students at Sanford High School will participate in an artist talk-back with Woody, JanaeSound, James, and Mobley.

“I am uncomfortable talking about racism,” Isaacson admits, “but this feeling of fear cues me that this dialogue is essential. I want our art not to be a bystander in the conversation but a change maker. My hope is that viewers will come for the uplifting and entertaining music but that it will prompt questions, reflection, and action. The companion website is meant to facilitate these next steps. I hope our audience will join me in thinking about how we can make purposeful change through music.” 

Isaacson and her organization are earnest in this invitation: Classical Uprising, with the support of its partners and sponsors, is making this concert free for everyone to view. Those who wish to support the work of Classical Uprising, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, may do so by visiting

To watch the livestream: 

To visit the companion webpage: 

This event is sponsored by Boulos Asset Management and funded in part by the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies.

About Classical Uprising

Classical Uprising offers a bold rethinking of the classical music experience through immersive events, performances, and educational programs. Formed in 2020 as a merger between Oratorio Chorale and Portland Bach Experience, Classical Uprising is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to community development, creative expression, inclusivity, lifelong learning, and artistic excellence. Classical Uprising programs include Oratorio Chorale, Portland Bach Experience, and the Classical Uprising Youth Choirs. The organization now serves over 120 adult amateur singers, 70 young musicians, 60 professional artists, and more than 3,500 audience members. 

About Sanford Performing Arts Center

Sanford Performing Arts Center (SPAC), Maine’s newest live performance venue, is located on the campus of the new Sanford High School and Sanford Regional Technical Center. The 850- seat theater opened in December 2018 and presents local and national touring performances of all kinds, including music, theater, dance, comedy, and more. The venue is also available for rent by outside organizations and presenters. The mission of the SPAC is to provide educational and cultural enrichment opportunities to foster the development, understanding, and enjoyment of the performing arts in southern Maine.

About Indigo Arts Alliance

Indigo Arts Alliance is an incubator space for Black and Brown artists. We amplify the creative voices and visions of global and local artists and facilitate cross-cultural collaboration using a multidisciplinary approach. This approach is exemplified by Indigo’s Artist-in-Residence program and the mentor-mentee relationships central to it. The impetus of IAA is to connect Black and Brown artists from around the world with Maine’s artists of African descent through a multidisciplinary artist-in-residency program that embodies a Black-led approach to creativity, community-building, and mentoring. With intentionality and purpose, our programming facilitates open discourse as a means to form deep partnerships that build the necessary framework to unite the arts and culture sector with social activism and social justice. We believe artists play a key role in creating a healthy multi-racial democracy.

About the Handel + Haydn Society

Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society is dedicated to performing Baroque and Classical music with a freshness, a vitality, and a creativity that inspires all ages. H+H has been captivating audiences for 206 consecutive seasons (the most of any performing arts organization in the United States). Today, H+H’s Orchestra and Chorus delight more than 50,000 listeners annually with a nine-week subscription series at Boston Symphony Hall and other leading venues. Through the Karen S. and George D. Levy Education Program, H+H supports seven youth choirs of singers in grades 2-12 and provides thousands of complimentary tickets to students and communities throughout Boston, ensuring the joy of music is accessible to all. H+H’s numerous free community concerts include an annual commemoration of the original 1863 Emancipation Proclamation concert on December 31. The artistic director of the Handel and Haydn Society is Harry Christophers. Under Christophers’s leadership, H+H has released 13 CDs on the Coro label and has toured nationally and internationally. In all these ways, H+H fulfills its mission to inspire the intellect, touch the heart, elevate the soul, and connect us with our shared humanity through transformative experiences with Baroque and Classical music. 



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Emily Southard

PO Box 7259
Portland  ME  04112