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MLK Concert at Severance Hall

On Sunday night we went to Severance Hall for the 35th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Concert. Mr. Dennis W. LaBarre, President of the Musical Arts Association, opened the program by thanking the Cleveland Orchestra for bringing the community together for the last 35 years for this celebration. The Reverend Paul Hobson Sadler, Sr.; Pastor of Mt. Zion Congregational Church; gave the invocation and thanked Dr. King for his mission and his message "in these days when we so sorely need to hear it." Ms. Karen A. White; Senior Vice President, Community Relations, KeyBank Foundation which sponsored the concert; said that this gathering represented "a diverse community coming together for the common good." Then Mayor Frank Jackson, Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell, and Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Yvonne M. Conwell presented the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Service Awards to Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word (youth), El Barrio Workforce and Development Center (organization/business), E.F. Boyd and Son Funeral Home and Crematory (organization/business), and Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. (adult/lifetime achievement). According to the program, these recipients represent one or more of the qualities of promotion of social justice, promotion of diversity and inclusion, leadership in community building, advocacy for education excellence, and involvement with music and the arts to promote greater understanding and acceptance.

On this occasion, the Cleveland Orchestra was conducted by Mr. Robert Porco, and the Martin Luther King Celebration Chorus was assembled and prepared by Mr. William Henry Caldwell. The entire concert couldn't have been more magnificent but, for us, several moments stood out.

The first one was when 14 year-old cellist Mr. Stephen Elliott played Hungarian Rhapsody. Mr. Elliott is the first place laureate of the Junior Division of the 2014 Sphinx Competition presented annually by the DTE Energy Foundation. His playing was so beautifully accomplished that he brought us all to our feet and an impressed Mr. Porco said that he wished he could have played like this when he was that age. At intermission, we talked to Ohio State Senator Kenny Yuko who said that when he was that age he was just getting good in baseball and we said that we forgot what we were doing when we were fourteen but Mr. Elliott performed better than we did at whatever we were doing.

Another poignant moment came when Mr. Porco introduced the musical selection, "The People's House" from the film, "Lincoln." Mr. Porco reminded everyone that the White House was built entirely by slaves but it wasn't really a house for all of the people until President Abraham Lincoln started the process to make it so.

When Mr. Porco introduced the musical selection, "The Promise of Living" from the oratorio "A Child of Our Time" he reflected back on his own history and told us about his father immigrating to the United States from Italy back in the 1920's and settled in Steubenville where he worked for 48 years in a steel mill there. He realized that he was never going to be promoted that far but he promised himself that he would help his son have a better life so he worked hard and saved money so that he could attend Ohio State. Mr. Porco ended this story by saying that, "and here I am."

Mr. Caldwell introduced the song, "For Every Mountain" and said that he was always honored each year to be a participant and looked forward to receiving a phone call every September telling him that it was time to start planning for this concert event. He said that this concert was not about "politics" it was about Dr. King but, moreover, it was about the "glory of God." Just before the singing started, he said that "there is no listener when it comes to black music-everyone is a participant!" so we all got up and swayed to the music and clapped our hands.

The last time we attended this concert was 2009 when we were guests of Cleveland City Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell. We saw Councilwoman Mitchell again this evening and she said to give her best to Ms. Margaret W. Wong. We shared a box with Dr. Ylwael Khoury who is an old friend of Ms. Wong's; in fact Ms. Wong once gave a talk at Dr. Khoury's home for the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. Accompanying Dr. Khoury was her friend, Ms. Sahika Takla who is visiting here from Istanbul. In the next box was Ms. Barbara Shelton (whose last name used to be Danforth) who is another old friend of Ms. Wong's.

We really liked it at the end of the concert when Mr. Porco, the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, said to all of us, "you're a terrific audience and we hope to see you more often during the year."

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