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Sacred concerts highlights faith and music

Posted by:
March 8, 2017

From 1965 until his death in 1974, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington reformed both his worldview and his music. With his advancing age, failing health, and the death in of his beloved co-composer Billy Strayhorn, Ellington came to realize the impermanence of life and rekindled the deep faith instilled in him by his father. From here, Duke Ellington composed the Sacred Concerts, calling his first of the three “the most important thing I’ve ever done.”

On Wednesday, March 15 at 8 p.m., PLU’s University Jazz Ensemble and University Chorale will perform selections from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts in Eastvold Auditorium of the Karen Hille Phillips Center for the Performing Arts as part of the 2017 SOAC Focus Series on Re-forming. Professor of Religion Doug Oakman will speak, highlighting the intersection of faith and music.

Ellington’s music and life reflected intense sensuality and cosmopolitanism,” Director David Deacon-Joyner remarked. “His musical and verbal language was both elegant and earthy. His countenance was regal and fetching. He bridges the gap between the language of entertainment and religious expression. His style has often been compared to visual artists, with his orchestra being his sonic palette.”

Ellington’s 1935 Reminiscing In Tempo, an elegy for his mother, gave us a glimpse of his faith expression through his music, as did a portion of his Symphony in Black from the same year. His faith came to full expression in the series of three Sacred Concerts from 1965 until his death in 1974. In the Sacred Concerts Ellington proclaims the magnificence of God, the call for equality and love for our neighbor. In these works, we perceive Ellington’s serenity in the presence of God (Heaven), his contemplation of God’s vastness and power (In the Beginning), the jubilation of worship (The Lord’s Prayer and David Danced) and the expanded and transcendent meaning of the word “freedom” that goes far beyond race and politics.

Oakman will read  a series of related quotes from Duke Ellington, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King Jr. and incorporate words Ellington wrote as part of the Sacred Concerts.

Tickets for the concert can be purchased online, over the phone (253-535-7411) and at the door: $8 general admission, $5 senior citizen and alumni, free for PLU & 18 and younger.

The is the third event in the 2017 SOAC Focus Series on Re-Forming. The SOAC FOCUS Series brings together SOAC’s talented students and faculty to examine a chosen theme through a multi-disciplinary approach. Through music, art, theatre and communication we will come together to explore the theme of Re-forming, as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and honor the core tenets of Lutheran higher education – critical questioning, freedom for expression, foundation in the liberal arts, learning and research within community, intrinsic value of educating the whole person, discerning one’s vocation in the world, and service to the advancement of life, health, and wholeness.


Free – $8

 “What we could not say openly we expressed in music, and what we know as ‘jazz’ is something more than just dance music. When we dance it is not a mere diversion or social accomplishment. It expresses our personality, and, right down in us, our souls react to the elemental but eternal rhythm, and the dance is timeless and unhampered by any linear form.”

— Duke Ellington in ‘The Duke Steps Out’