Two decades ago, a young John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School student met a multiple Grammy Award-winning jazz musician. Now the two of them are bringing to Augusta a massive work that is only being performed in select cities and in some well-known venues.
Damien Sneed, a 1996 Davidson graduate, is conducting a 70-member choir as part of Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration Tour, which will stop at Augusta’s Good Shepherd Baptist Church, 1714 Olive Road, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct 11. Tickets are $25 and available at Pyramid Music, 1647 Gordon Highway or purchase online at jalc.org/events/2013-14-season/event/t-2175.
“I have never seen anyone like him,” said Marsalis, who met the young Sneed after Marsalis performed In This House On This Morning at the Imperial Theatre in the early 1990s. “He has such a depth of knowledge of music, and he’s innovative in his ways.”
Marsalis, a nine-time Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize music award winner, created the Abyssinian Mass in 2008 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, N.Y.
In 2012 during the Olympics in London, Sneed conducted the Mass at the Barbican. David Steward, founder of World Wide Technology in St. Louis, provided the financial backing to send the 100-plus member Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration Tour to its 16-city month-long tour, which began Oct. 3 in North Carolina.
In addition to its Augusta stop, there was a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, and there will be performances at the Lincoln Center in New York City on Oct. 24-26.
Since it is a celebration of church music, it was fitting to have some of the performances in churches.
“Wynton stressed he wanted to do these pieces in church,” said Sneed, whose home church is Good Shepherd Baptist Church.
The Abyssinian Mass celebrates the musical elements of the African-American Baptist church service and its relationship to a traditional Mass as seen in the music of composers such as Mozart. Marsalis said there are many musical genres that will be heard in the concert.
“All African-American music of the 20th century was filtered through the church because so many of those musicians grew up in church,” he said.
More than 100 people are involved in this massive production, and Marsalis said he’s amazed at the work of Sneed in engaging the choir.
Sneed said he’s one of about seven Augustans affiliated with the performance. The choir features a conglomeration of performers from opera singers to Juilliard students.