• An Ethereal Moment

    In a special performance on March 23, Carnegie Hall shines the spotlight on Duke Ellington’s sacred music, some of the most ambitious and heartfelt music of his legendary career. Tying together elements of jazz and classical music with African American spirituals and gospel, these compositions crossed the lines that divide secular and religious genres, while punctuating the ever expanding role of jazz in America and throughout the world.

    First heard during three historic concerts in the 1960s and ’70s, this legendary music will now be performed by hundreds of student singers and instrumentalists from New York City alongside some of today’s brightest jazz soloists, brought together by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center.

    As part of their participation in this project, the student musicians have also worked throughout the school year to explore jazz composition and improvisation, guided by some of the world-class performers with whom they will share the Carnegie Hall stage. Two of these artist-educators are Vincent Gardner, director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra and trombone soloist for the concert, and Damien Sneed, a renowned choral conductor and director of the 250-strong choir of high school singers for the final performance. In the following, the two share their thoughts on Duke Ellington’s music and the impact of this project on their students’ lives.


    Vincent Gardner
    Vincent Gardner
    Those people who have never heard Duke Ellington’s sacred works are going to be astonished by the depth and substance of the music. It’s an amazingly honest and straightforward collection of instrumental and vocal compositions, written near the end of Ellington’s life and reflecting his views on spirituality—not a frequently discussed topic in the work of jazz musicians. The young people in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra and the 250 singers from all over the city are putting a huge amount of work into this performance. They can do this because they also have spirituality in their lives, whether or not they’re regular churchgoers or attend any religious services. I haven’t had a problem at all communicating with the young musicians about what Ellington’s music is saying because they already understand it. These kids are at the age when they are starting to formulate their own ideas about these topics, and so they naturally approach this music with a serious focus.
    Damien Sneed
    Damien Sneed
    What makes this opportunity special is what you see in the eyes of the young people—their innocence, their trust in everything that you say, and their desire to grow and to be stretched. These moments in their lives are extremely important, whether they decide to become performing artists or not; the experiences that they’re receiving in this program and from this music will be a part of their futures no matter what they do. The students are thrilled to perform on a stage where so many great artists have been before them. This performance will be a capstone moment, which they’ve been working toward for the entire school year. It will be great for them to be able to look out into the audience and see their friends, their family members, their peers, and their teachers watching them perform. This will give them something to float upon, an ethereal moment. There’s nothing that compares to that.