From Ghetto to Glory

The Cleveland School of the Arts represented itself well Friday night when its Nathaniel Dett Choir opened for Toronto's Nathaniel Dett Chorale in a Martin Luther King Jr. tribute at St. John Cathedral. While the two ensembles are named for the same African Canadian composer of the early 20th century, and both choirs specialize in performing classical and spiritual music, the similarities stop there. The most striking difference is that the Cleveland group is nearly 100 percent black, whereas all of Canada is almost 100 percent white. And we wondered how much its members appreciate lofty music by Bach, Beethoven, and other classical greats compared to the hip-hop emanating from their 'hoods. At intermission, director William Woods told us that he auditions hundreds of Cleveland's high school students each year for the choir's 85 available spots. Not only does he judge each teen's vocal chops, but he weighs in everybody's science and math grades to make his decision. Being chosen to sing in the group is akin to winning a seat on student council or having your classmates vote you onto homecoming court, he says. The fact that the choir has performed concerts in places like Japan and Austria also lends a lot of in-school cred. "All of the students come from average to poor economic means," says Woods. "It's something to see a kid from the ghetto get a standing ovation in the same place where Mozart and Haydn performed." -- Cris Glaser
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