Plans were announced today for a unity festival this fall in Springfield, Massachusetts. Organizers hope to bring together people from throughout western Massachusetts to highlight the region’s cultural, religious, racial, and age diversity.
The theme of the festival, scheduled for mid-October, is the promotion of social integration through song.
The Springfield Unity Festival will feature a forum with a noted educator and humanitarian, a gospel music academy for school children, and a culturally-mixed chorus of 300 local singers performing at majestic Symphony Hall—the festival’s signature event.
Festival organizers assembled on the steps of Symphony Hall Wednesday to announce details of the event and provide a musical preview.
The festival is the brainchild of York Mayo, a retired business executive and well-known community volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations. He is organizing the festival with the help of about a dozen other volunteers and with about $60,000 in financial support from local businesses and philanthropies.
Mayo said he envisions the festival bringing together people from Springfield’s mostly-white suburbs and its mostly non-white inner city.
"Our strength is our diversity. It is not a weakness it is a strength."
Mayo said the spark for the festival came several years earlier when he participated in a choral festival and found it to be a unifying experience.
" I have a dream. I can see 300 people up on the stage of Symphony Hall singing. People of all different types and races all up there making music together. Music is a uniter. It brings people together."
The chorus of 300 local singers will be led by world renowned conductor Dr. Raymond Wise. He is composing a Springfield Unity Anthem that will debut at the concert on October 18. There will also be a performance that evening by a 50-member local choir that is being assembled by the music directors from four area churches. Singers for the larger choral group are still being recruited.
Rafael Osorio, the music director at Apostolic Renewal Church, said the festival concert is an opportunity for people to step out of their comfort zone.
" We want to push past our comfort and come together as one body and sing and celebrate the diversity that Springfield has."
During the three weekends leading up to the festival a number of local churches plan to swap choirs.
The festival will include the talk by John Hunter at the Springfield Public Forum on Oct. 15th. Hunter is a teacher and developer of the World Peace Game.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno endorsed the festival at Wednesday’s announcement. He called it a “great feel good event” for Springfield.
" To bring communities together no matter what creed, color or background -- that is needed more than ever now in Springfield and the world," said Sarno.
A website is being launched to provide information about the events. People who want to be in the 300-member chorus can go to the website to sign-up.