Neal Gittleman

ArtsWatch diary: Niel DePonte goes to Dayton to hear his ‘With Grace and Justice for All’

At a mostly black church in Dayton, the Dayton Philharmonic performs Niel DePonte's new work on justice and 'Amazing Grace'


Editor’s note: ArtsWatch asked percussionist/conductor/composer Niel DePonte to keep a diary of his trip to Dayton, Ohio, for a performance of his newest composition, With Grace and Justice for All, which the Dayton Philharmonic was performing in an African-American church as part of its extensive outreach efforts in the city. It was the first time DePonte had heard the piece, which uses the hymn Amazing Grace as a musical starting point and intersperses quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela into the music. And at the end, something remarkable happened.

“Each piece of music is like one’s own life: it has beginning, a middle, and an end…and then it is gone.” —Anon

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I am flying to Ohio to attend the world premiere of my new composition With Grace and Justice for All (WG&J) by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. It is always gratifying to hear one’s own work performed, but especially this one for me. It is a deeply personal piece about social justice in which my music weaves through relevant writings of Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During the past few weeks, I have played a midi sound file of WG&J for a few close friends. Almost without exception each listener has ultimately asked the following question, “What inspired you to write this particular work?”

I found the question far harder to answer than it might seem. Why did I write a piece on the idea of “amazing grace,” in its literal, musical, and figurative sense, and connect my music to words spoken by these two icons of civil rights?


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