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Published: Sunday, 2/23/2003

Telling Sheherazade's story in a new way

Jon Hendricks will present his vocal arrangement of "Sheherazade" today at St. Martin de Porres Church. Jon Hendricks will present his vocal arrangement of "Sheherazade" today at St. Martin de Porres Church.

Nearly five decades ago Toledoan Jon Hendricks changed the course of jazz. His development of a new singing style, which he called vocalese, bridged the gap between traditional song and the more rough-hewn sounds of brass and wind instruments. In the area of pop music his ideas would help pave the way for groups like the 5th Dimension.

Hailed then as one of the genre's great innovators, today at age 81 Hendricks remains a visionary. Now he is turning his attention to rattling the foundations of the classical music estate.

The Toledo Symphony will perform the world premiere of Hendricks' vocal arrangement of the third movement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade this afternoon at St. Martin de Porres Church. Also on the program is University of Toledo's “Vocalstra” Choir. The congregation's annual concert, now in its 13th year, is being held in celebration of Black History Month.

Telling the story of Sheherazade, the Arabian heroine from One Thousand and One Nights, seems particularly fitting for this celebratory concert, says Martin Donnelly, pastor at St. Martin de Porres Church.

“The character of Sheherazade can be seen as an allegory for the black experience. By her wits alone, and with no other resources at her disposal, she was able to salvage her life, to find a way where there was no way,” said Father Donnelly.

Hendricks too has spent his life searching out new paths, or creating them anew.

“Something is going to happen here, but I don't know what it is,” said Hendricks last week while discussing the upcoming premiere.

“I chose this music by the way it touched my spirit. Then I sat down and wrote words to it,” he said.

Hendricks wants us to understand that Sheherzade's tales are more than idle fictions. They are rich in allegory.

These stories, with their magic carpets and magic lamps, might sound frivolous to us today, but that is because modern translations of Persia's ancient Pharsi language miss the essence of the language, Hendricks said.

“In reality, these stories are very serious. They are about man's spiritual life on earth, of angels and other spiritual beings.”

For Hendricks, who could have found any number of orchestras interested in this performance, choosing Toledo for the premiere was the sentimental choice.

“My bones were nurtured in Toledo,” he said.

“I want to give back to my hometown some of the world renown that I have accumulated over the years. Now that I am teaching at University of Toledo, I hope that by engaging in my musical activities here in Toledo that some of the credit for that work would also accrue to the university.”

Hendricks hopes today's concert will be just the first in a series of classical vocaleses. Already he has been working on a setting of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concert No. 2.

Also on today's program will be two other large-scale symphonic works; Festive Overture by the “Dean of African-American Composers,” William Grant Still, and William Henry Curry's 1999 work Eulogy for a Dream, which highlights the speeches and writings of Dr. Martin Luther King.

A number of jazz standards are also slated.

UT's “Vocalstra” Choir, and 11-year-old vocalist Darius Coleman will join conductor Jeffrey Pollock and the Toledo Symphony in a Black History Month celebration at 4:30 this afternoon at St. Martin de Porres Church. Tickets are $25 and $50 and will be available at the door. Information: 419-241-4544.

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