Professor weaves together stories, music in ‘Macon Portrait’ for symphony orchestra

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musicians in black perform on stage
The Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra performs Nov. 21, 2022, in The Grand Opera House. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith

Set to a backdrop of music, 10 community members will share their personal stories in “Macon Portrait,” a special performance piece that will premiere during the Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra concert on Oct. 16. 

Mercer University English professor Dr. Andrew Silver wrote the piece, set to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” in celebration of Macon’s bicentennial. The title is a nod to another one of Copland’s works, “Lincoln Portrait,” which features narration set to an orchestra. 

“We wanted to use music to send a powerful message to the community about the history of Macon — where it’s been, where it is, and where it’s going,” said violinist Robert McDuffie, who founded the Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra. 

For the piece, Dr. Silver interviewed 10 people that represent different perspectives in the community. He then stitched together a narrative that matches the mood of the music. Originally a ballet, “Appalachian Spring” is one of Copland’s most famous pieces that captures the American spirit, he said. 

Dr. Silver said he wanted the narrative to acknowledge Macon’s past, along with its obstacles and traumas, and move forward toward redemption and reconciliation. 

“The city is so complex and vibrant and fascinating that I thought the best way to do this would be through the voices of some of the members of this community,” he said. 

Community members will read their own stories during the performance. 

“It’s really important to me that the stories are read by the people themselves,” Dr. Silver said. “I think the music does something to the words that the words couldn’t do alone, and the words do something to the music that the music couldn’t do alone.” 

Macon has a unique narrative that gives it a sense of place. Knowing that story gives people a greater attachment and sense of belonging, he said. 

“I feel like any bicentennial is giving you an indication of who is a part of this community, and, indirectly, I think bicentennial celebrations essentially tell you who is welcome in that community,” he said. “I wanted to try to put something together that would feel as broad a welcome as possible to make sure that people know that regardless of your upbringing, your religion, your cultural background, this place embraces you.”

The concert kicks off the Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra 20232024 season. The program will begin with Beethoven’s “Eroica,” a boundary-breaking symphony that ushered in the Romantic era. “Macon Portrait” will be featured in the second half of the concert. Macon native Roderick Cox will conduct. 

“I think it’s going to be a beautiful night for Macon and Middle Georgia. The power of music matters, and music can heal as well,” McDuffie said. “I hope every person in the audience walks away feeling proud they live in Macon.” 

The Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra features emerging artists from the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings and principal musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. All performances take place at The Grand Opera House at 7:30 p.m. 

Single tickets for each concert are available online for $25-$35 per concert and are free at the door for students of all ages with valid ID. 

‘Macon Portrait’ storytellers 

  • Justin Andrews, director of special projects and outreach for the Otis Redding Foundation and Otis Redding’s grandson. 
  • DeMarcus Beckham, outreach coordinator for Reach to Impact and a young advocate. 
  • Seth Clark, Macon-Bibb County mayor pro tempore and District 5 commissioner.
  • Bentley Hudgins, a Mercer graduate and Asian-American organizer. 
  • Karla Redding-Andrews, vice president and executive director for the Otis Redding Foundation and Otis Redding’s daughter. 
  • Sophie Rosen, special projects officer for the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency and a Jewish youth leader. 
  • Tracie Revis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative. 
  • Edna Ruiz Adams, a public relations specialist for Macon-Bibb County and former Macon newscaster. 
  • Syrin Suleiman, a Palestinian Mercer student from Jordan. 
  • Jessica Walden, president and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and daughter of Alan Walden, a music manager and publisher. 

 

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