NY Choral Society combines 19th century hymns with racial justice sculptures

Joyce bending over work with clays in bg – great shot
Activist-artist Joyce McDonald crafts a sculpture of a Black person killed by police in recent years.

The New York Choral Society launches its digital 2020-2021 season on Nov. 11 with a short film combining utopian hymns with sculptures depicting Black people killed by police.

Activist-sculptor Joyce McDonald presents her work in the six-minute film, which includes busts of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and others who died at the hands of police in recent years, according to the artist.

“I just started George Floyd’s sculpture by pulling up his picture, and the next thing, I knew my hands were doing this thing— it felt out of body, and I began to cry,” said McDonald. “I couldn’t stop. I did Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and Ahmaud Arbery. I did Eric Garner. I did Trayvon Martin.”

“There has been so much energy moving through me as I create this work,” the artist said.

Her pieces highlight society’s ongoing racial injustices against the backdrop of the 19th-century Shaker song “Peace unto Zion,” performed by a collage of 40 voices.

The Choral Society’s musical director said juxtaposing the two artworks offers hope for a racially and socially just world and brings in more diverse voices into the field of classical music.

“The collaboration among an arranger of Shaker hymns and a sculptor who captures the range of emotions she’s experienced throughout her spirited life offers a powerful meditation on hope and the equally painful striving for a utopia of peace and grace,” said David Hayes. “This moment in our history is a time for classical music to make room at the table for other, more diverse voices.”

The six-minute video will be posted to the Society’s website and YouTube channel, and is the first in the organization’s five-part virtual short film series “Our Voices,” with more performances coming online to their website and YouTube channel through May.

For more information visit www.nychoral.org.