When cacophonic harmonies and tragic memories dance together in Memphis, they create a stage of epic proportion.
In true Memphis fashion, the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will traditionally consist of candlelight vigils, silent marches and rowdy sermons from preachers who remember holding conversations with the great civil rights leader.
This year, however, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will celebrate one of the world's greatest revolutionaries with melodic strands of harmony, storytelling the emotions evoked from the sanitation marches in downtown Memphis to that fretful day on April 4, 1968.
"Rebirth of the Dream" was inspired by the legacy of King as he stood at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, leading a generation of people from his years as a young preacher, father, but most of all- a radical- towards racial and economic freedom in America.
The Memphis Symphony Orchestra seeks to revitalize the history, pains and victories with the power of music surrounding King and his contributions. In an unprecedented effort to unite individuals and communities, experiencing such an event could be compared to revisiting that period of time, witnessing the relevance and resilience of the Memphis community as they stood near King.
Even though they go unnoticed, women in the 1960s stood with King just as much as men, and today, women stand even stronger as they seek to honor his legacy.
"I heard this perfect speech that stayed with me," Chen, music director of the MSO, said in an online interview. "In a way I came to this country to fulfill my dream, but I knew it must be a bigger dream, a bigger calling, to coincide with my own dream."
As she prepares to lead the orchestra on May 16, Chen has a group of 150 diverse women, known as Mei-Ann's Circle of Friends (MACF), have dedicated themselves to influence support. The group, a philanthropy circle who sought the need for Memphians to educate and explore the assassination of King through more than school history programs and textbook pages, is responsible for raising the revenue to commission composer Paul Brantley to write the composition or score of "Rebirth."
To assist with building publicity and enthusiasm as the event draws near, 14 non-profit organizations, known as the "Dream Keeper Collaborators" with a mission to continue King's work through promoting social justice and action, have committed to support the Symphony by building awareness and momentum in their respective communities.
"Our mission is 'teaching, studying, and promoting civil rights and social change,'" Daphene McFerren, executive director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis, said. "We interact with not only students on campus, but with the community-at-large. As a collaborator, we have helped discuss and been engaged in activities to help create community awareness."
Calling the legacy and vision of King central to the Civil Rights Movement, McFerren said she hopes the event will represent the diversity of Memphis, bringing together people from different backgrounds who can collectively enjoy the composition. In addition, she wants people to walk away with their own personal "call-to-action."
"One of the things we have been talking about is giving people some concrete action as a result of this activity," McFerren said. "It is important that after this event that people will leave this with some promise they can keep themselves to give to someone or something in their community that would create a power of improvement."
Another prominent collaborator is the Metropolitan In-Faith Association, or better known as MIFA. The organization was founded by a diverse group of church and lay leaders after the death of King, providing financial and community support to senior citizens and families affected by high-impact conditions.
"This vision truly embodies the spirit and legacy of Dr. King’s work in the community," Sally Jones Heinz, MIFA Executive Director, said. "MIFA is delighted to be a Dream Keeper Collaborator as we embrace Memphis history and unity through the Rebirth of the Dream concert.”
There is a formidable musical equality and history engulfed in the streets of the Bluff City. During the peak of the Civil Rights Movement on a regular day in Memphis, one could enter Stax Records and find recording artists, white and black, working together, socializing and enjoying the company of their label mates without any quarrels springing from race. Popular groups such as Booker T. and the MGs has both white and black band members, but it was not their Dalmatian demographic that made them a world-renowned R&B, funk bands.
Unfortunately, shortly after the death of King, the racial tensions grew in Memphis, causing an uprising of riots surrounding the studio.
The Orchestra, however, believes it is the dawn of a new day in Memphis.
Roland Valliere, the president and CEO of the MSO, said with the opening of the new revitalized National Civil Rights Museum, "Rebirth of the Dream" can spark a much needed sense of pride in Memphis. He does not think these two events could have happened at a better time as the nation reflects on the past; Memphis can look towards the future.
The concert will incorporate a Dream Gospel Chorus assembled by Leo Davis of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church composed of singers from various churches throughout Memphis and will feature a solo performance by Grammy Award Nominee and Stax Music Academy Director Justin Merrick.
"Rebirth of the Dream" premiers on May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Cannon Center in Downtown Memphis. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.rebirthofthedream.com.