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Kalamazoo Symphony Honors the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Honor the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through Music. Sunday, January 2



Sydney Schless




Updated: Jan. 12, 2024


Kalamazoo Symphony Honors the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Features local music students from the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra and choruses from Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix High Schools


KALAMAZOO, Mich.– On Sunday, Jan. 21, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (KSO) shares the stage with members of the Kalamazoo arts community in a concert honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Through the pieces on this program, the KSO and community partners reflect together to bring Dr. King’s vision to life through music. The concert will feature a side-by-side performance with Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra students and the combined choruses of Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix High Schools.

The concert is titled after a passage from Dr. King’s 1963 speech given on the campus of Western Michigan University, “With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation to a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

Dr. Kandace R. Lavender of Read and Write Kalamazoo will give a spoken word performance in response to composer Margaret Bonds’ work “The Montgomery Variations.” Community leader and philanthropist Larry Bell joins the Symphony to narrate Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.”

Symphony of Brotherhood: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will take place on Sunday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. in Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium. Symphony of Brotherhood is sponsored by Miller Canfield.



“The Montgomery Variations” | Margaret Bonds

Margaret Bonds was a Chicago-born pianist and composer who studied with well-known composer Florence Price. While finishing her studies, Bonds would become the first Black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony with a performance of John Carpenter’s piano concerto.

Written in the shadow of the horrific Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, each movement of Bonds’ work uses music to reflect on moments in the Civil Rights Movement, from the Montgomery bus boycott that began in 1955 and moments of prayer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership and influence. From Dr. King’s eulogy following the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing and his leadership that spurred the bus boycott, his presence is deeply felt in Bonds’ work.

The Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra will perform this piece with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

Dr. Kandace R. Lavender, Executive Director of Read and Write Kalamazoo, will give a spoken word performance, reflecting on the experiences and events that Bonds’ music represents.


“Lincoln Portrait” | Aaron Copland

Abraham Lincoln’s presidential legacy of preserving democracy and abolishing slavery in the United States echoes throughout history. While preceding Dr. King by a century, the two would be tied together in history through their civil rights leadership.

Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” a musical representation of Lincoln and his words, would also serve as a powerful tribute to Dr. King following his assassination in 1968. Not a year after, Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, joined the National Symphony Orchestra at Constitution Hall to narrate Lincoln's powerful words. “Lincoln Portrait” would again be narrated by a King, his eldest daughter Yolanda, in 1989 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Mother and daughter would come together in 1985 to deliver the narration in Chicago. These moments thoroughly intertwine these two monumental men and their legacies.

Community leader and philanthropist Larry Bell will read the narration portion of this piece.


“Lift Every Voice and Sing” | James Weldon Johnson & John Rosamond Johnson

In 1900, James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was later set to music composed by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. A year later, the piece debuted in celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Its first performance was given by 500 students from Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.

Closing the concert, the KSO will be joined by the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra and both high school choirs.

Also included on the program are Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” from his opera “The Tender Land” and André J. Thomas’ “I Dream a World,” featuring the Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central High School Choirs.



Dr. Kandace R. Lavender | Spoken Word Artist

Dr. Kandace R. Lavender is an educator, teaching artist, and youth advocate. She graduated from Western Michigan University and Michigan State University, where she earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership. Currently serving as the Executive Director of Read and Write Kalamazoo, a local non-profit whose mission focuses on "celebrating and amplifying youth voices," Dr. Lavender has been connecting and building with youth in various capacities for the last 14 years.

Her passions are rooted in using art as a tool to impact youth experiences in the classroom and the community. As a founder of The Teacher Cypher, an organization that blends Hip-Hop Culture, Youth Advocacy, and Academic Engagement, she empowers and ignites scholars to reimagine their relationship with education. In addition to her transformational impact on education, Dr. Lavender still finds time to engage in her own writing of various hip-hop and spoken word pieces, sharing her work across local, national, and international platforms as "DC" under the label Truth Tone, spreading messages of hope, healing, and love as a verb.


Larry Bell | Narrator

Larry Bell came to Kalamazoo in 1976 to attend Kalamazoo College, from whom he received an honorary doctorate in 2023. He is the president of the Larry J. Bell Library Foundation and past president of the Gilmore Piano Festival. He resides in town with his wife, Shannon, and their dog, Tessie.


Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra

The Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra (KJSO), the flagship ensemble and namesake of the organization, is led by Andrew Koehler, who also serves as a professor of music at Kalamazoo College and is the music director of the acclaimed Kalamazoo Philharmonia. In addition to the KJSO’s three annual performances of professional-level repertoire in the historic Chenery Auditorium, the KJSO also tours internationally and offers a dynamic chamber music training program for select KJSO members who are coached by professional musicians in the area.


Preconcert activities will start in the lobby an hour before the performance (2 p.m.) and include music by Kalamazoo Kids In Tune student ensemble and a youth leadership fair. The following organizations and more will share opportunities for young people to get involved and shape important efforts in our community:

  • El Concilio
  • Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KydNet)
  • KRESA’s Youth Opportunities Unlimited/MyCITY
  • Merze Tate Explorers
  • Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK)
  • Rootead
  • Second Wave Media


Concert tickets are available online through the Epic Center’s Community Box Office by calling 269.250.6984 or at www.KalamazooSymphony.com. Adult tickets start at $18 and Under 18 tickets (for children under the age of 18) start at $15.


For over a century, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra has been sharing lifelong musical experiences and learning throughout our community. The KSO actively collaborates with other Kalamazoo area organizations to inspire, care for, educate, and connect people through the arts. As the state’s third-largest orchestra, with a professional roster of more than 80 musicians and a dedicated staff, the KSO serves Michigan’s sixth-largest metropolitan area through exceptional symphonic music, world-class guest artists, and a vibrant educational program.

The KSO receives significant support from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Arts and Culture Council. Recognitions, awards, and grants include a major Ford Foundation grant to establish an innovative Artists in Residence program and recognition from Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. The KSO also receives generous support from other local, state, and national foundations and private and corporate donors.




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