"The Listening"

Artistic Direction by Andre de Quadros
Conducted by 
Dr. Christopher L. Clark
Composed by Cheryl B. Engelhardt
Donzaleigh Abernathy & Wes Felton
The Listening Choir

**2022 Recipient of The American Prize in Virtual Recordings, 3rd Place***

Click here to download the perusal score.

Welcome to the page for the recording of the choral piece, "The Listening", released during Black History Month on February 12th, 2021. The piece was composed by Cheryl B. Engelhardt and inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King's 1967 speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence".

In the summer of 2020, after George Floyd’s death, many of the choirs who had performed "The Listening" reached out to see if they could create a virtual recording of the song. We combined all interested singers into The Listening Choir and were able to secure featured solos by Donzaleigh Abernathy and Washington DC-based activist and spoken word artist, Wes Felton (son of jazz pianist Hilton Felton, Jr.). The recording premiered in People Magazine and was featured by Harper's Bazaar and The Hill.

Scroll down for more information on the origins of the piece, who is involved, and historic references.

Featured in:

Listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break The Silence", on which "The Listening" is based. He delivered it in Riverside Church on April 4th, 1967 (exactly one year prior to his assassination). You can read the entire speech here.

Donzaleigh Abernathy, civil rights activist, actress, and daughter of Ralph David and Juanita Abernathy, is in this photo, standing in front of her godfather, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Donzaleigh and her husband, Dar Dixon, attended a performance of "The Listening" in San Diego and helped in the production of this collaboration.  

Voices21C performing "The Listening" live at the ACDA conference in Rochester, New York, March 6, 2020. 

If you're interested in "The Listening" sheet music for your choir, click here for the perusal score or email Cheryl to discuss.

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Exclusive vocal mix, project updates, and insights from composer Cheryl B. Engelhardt are available.

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Who's Involved?

Members and friends of VOICES 21C (Boston), Concinnity (CT), Ember (NYC), ConVal High School Select Choir (NH), and the In The Key Of Success musician community, are singing in this project. Many singers joined the leadership team for virtual zoom discussions about the piece, its origins, and its impact, both personal and cultural. [THE LISTENING CHOIR]

Donzaleigh Abernathy is a civil rights activist, actress, and daughter of Ralph David and Juanita Abernathy and goddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Donzaleigh and her husband attended a performance of "The Listening" in San Diego. She has generously helped in the production of this collaboration in addition to lending her voice to the solo.  [SOLOIST]

Wes Felton is a singer/poet/actor/emcee born and raised in Washington DC. Son of Jazz Pianist Hilton C. Felton Jr. Younger eardrums might hear a whiff of Frank Ocean, but area fans know Felton has been crafting thoughtful R&B since Ocean was collecting Pokemon cards. His resume runs deep with collaborations with Meshell Ndegeocello, Ben Williams, Diamond D, Omar, Chris Rock and Prince Paul. Wes tours the globe as a member of The Crossrhodes with Raheem DeVaughn. Listen on Bandcamp. [SOLOIST]

Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a composer and songwriter as well as a founding member of the social justice choir Voices21C. Her newest project is a New Age album released July 2021, A Seeker's Slumber. Cheryl graduated from Cornell University and studied orchestration at Juilliard School of Music before starting her  composing career in a jingle house, touring with her band around the globe, and ultimately, landing as a choral, new age, meditation, and theater composer. [COMPOSER / PRODUCER / PIANO on INSTRUMENTAL VERSION] Full composer's note below.

Dr André de Quadros is a conductor, ethnomusicologist, music educator, writer, and human rights activist. His professional work has taken him to the most diverse settings in over 40 countries, working with professional ensembles, prison education programs, refugees, and victims of sexual violence and trauma. As a professor at Boston University, he holds affiliations in African, African American, Asian, Jewish, and Muslim studies. He directs the Manado State University Choir (Indonesia), Common Ground Voices (Jerusalem), VOICES 21C (Boston), and the Muslim Choral Ensemble (Sri Lanka). He co-directs Common Ground Voices / La Frontera (Tijuana/San Diego) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Countries Youth Choir (Shanghai). Additionally, André serves as general editor of Songs of the World, published by Hinshaw Music (USA). He is the 2021 recipient of Chorus America’s Brazeal Wayne Dennard Award to recognize his work in social justice. Read more on Andre's website[ARTISTIC DIRECTOR]

Dr. Christopher L. Clark Dr. Christopher L. Clark, PhD, is the Director of Choirs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He received his PhD from The University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, and a double Masters in Music Education and Choral Conducting from Bowling Green State University. Dr. Clark’s research interests include the intersection of choral music educators and their religiosity, group choral improvisation, and social justice. A 2013 Yale “Distinguished Music Educator”, Dr. Clark performs with Boston-based social justice choir, Voices 21C, and is a frequent guest clinician, soloist, and presenter. [CONDUCTOR]

J Chris Griffin first collaborated with this piece on Martin Luther King Day in January 2019 when members of Ember and Voices21C came to The Engine Room studios in New York City to record the studio version of "The Listening". He was the engineer and mixer of that version, and remains the mix engineer on our virtual version. Jess Lazar joined us as the video editor. [POST-PRODUCTION TEAM]

Meet the team behind The Listening Virtual Collaboration rehearsals and preparation:  sectional leaders and conversation starters! Clockwise from top left:
Dr. Christopher L. Clark - Bass
Sydney Mukasa - Tenor
Olivia de Geofrey - Sop 2
Brad Dumont - Conversation
Nicolette Mingels  - Alto
Andre DeQuadros - Choir Director, Conversation, advisement/editing
Middle: Krystal Morin - Sop 1, Sectional Director [SECTION LEADERS & CONVERSATION STARTERS]

Halim Flowers is a social justice entrepreneur,
writer, artist, and speaker. He was on stage during the 2020 ACDA conference in Rochester as a collaborator with the social justice choir Voices 21C as they performed the Listening as part of their set on Race and Incarceration. Flowers was wrongfully incarcerated, being released 22 years into a 40-year sentence, during which time he wrote 11 books, studied entrepreneurship and is now taking the art, fashion, and social justice world by storm. Read his inspiring story here. [COVER ART]

A very special thank you to:

The Riverside Church Archives
John C. Goodman (Courtesy of David Goodman)  
Jeanine Heron and Matt Heron (Courtesy of TopFoto) 
John Kouns (Courtesy of The Tom and Ethel Bradley Center) 
Diane Lara, Director of the Photographic Archives of Harry Adams 
The Tom and Ethel Bradley Center at California State University Photographic Archives
Dr. Deborah Simpkin King, Sarah Kaufold, Emilie Armein


Donzaleigh Abernathy, MLK's Goddaughter, Reveals Memories from 'Thrilling' Civil Rights Movement - PEOPLE.COM

Donzaleigh is featured in People's Black History Month series called "Voices Against Racism" where she tells her story and talks about how she became involved in "The Listening" project.

Read the article

Donzaleigh Abernathy talks race, marching and life growing up with her godfather Martin Luther King - HARPER'S BAZAAR

"Abernathy’s knack for handling universally felt challenges in the Black community shines bright in The Listening - a vital project inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech, 'Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence' – which uses the power of choral music to reflect on the bigger picture of discrimination and silent racism."

Read the feature

KTLA - Live TV Morning News Feature

Donzaleigh and Cheryl were interviewed by KTLA about the process of collaborating on "The Listening" and how Donzaleigh is bringing the civil rights movement from her past to the present. ⬇️


Donzaleigh Abernathy discusses growing up the goddaughter of MLK Jr, the future of the civil rights movement - THE HILL

An amazing feature on The Hill, featuring Donzaleigh and new stories about her past, and thoughts on where the civil rights movement is headed.

Read full article

Donzaleigh Abernathy: Soloist on 'The Listening' Inspired by 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. Speech - EURWEB

Dig in to The Listening with this in great write-up on the project!

Read full review

Martin Luther King's goddaugher continues his dream - EVOKE

‘I sat beside Gloria Steinem and I told her I was writing a book about Dad and Uncle Martin and she asked, “What about you?” And I said, “Oh I’m not important.” And she said “No, no, no. It’s about you. You matter too.”

Read full article

MLK's goddaughter 'stil scarred' by KKK attacks - METRO

This is an extraordinary interview that highlights Donzaliegh's early childhood experiences as well as her participation in The Listening.

Read the article

"The Bill King Show" hosted on MixCloud: Interview with Donzaleigh Abernathy

A fabulous interview and conversation between Donzaleigh Abernathy and Bill King. January, 2021.

Listen to the interview

Review by Aaron Cloutier & Staff at "Please Pass The Indie"

Listeners are greeted with flawless vocal performances, angelic harmonies, piano stabs and scant hip hop instrumentation upon stepping into the musical experience that is “The Listening.”

Read full review


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A note from the composer...

This piece was written in December 2017, commissioned by Andre DeQuadros for VOICES21C. After careful study of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech titled “Beyond Vietnam- A Time To Break The Silence” the text was crafted. The speech was given on April 4th, 1967, a year before his assassination, at Riverside Church in New York City. It was a denunciation of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, in addition to a cry for the American people to listen to the unheard voices. King was criticized for bringing politics to his civil rights platform.

What intrigued me most about this speech is “the silence” to which he refers. The world, certainly, was not silent. There was madness (as he states, “somehow this madness must cease”), there was war, there were atrocities being committed both abroad and at home in the United States. The “silence” was not that of global society and events, it was personal. In breaking the silence, King was not, in my opinion, encouraging revolutionaries and anti-war supporters to grow louder than their opposition. No, he was suggesting to those who have not spoken up to speak. He was encouraging those who could speak to break the silence for those who could not.

Dr. King urged listeners to embrace “unconditional love for all mankind” and made clear that love is not something weak or sentimental, but rather access to making history.

In my opinion, Dr. King started truly listening. He was listening to the oppressed, the abused, the poor, the scared, and the unloved. In “The Listening”, I set out to recreate how he listened. This is the recreation of the listening.

Musically, I pulled rhythmic inspiration from Dr. King’s speech. Though straight-forward in nature, it was extremely poetic. With lines dripping with alliteration, such as “…rendering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war”, there was a heartbeat pulsing through it. I wanted to translate this to the staff.

“The Listening” has been performed by choirs around the globe after its debut in Mexico City by the Boston-based social justice choir Voices21C. It was the piece chosen by the All New England Choir competition where 250 high school students sang together after a discussion of what their experience of singing the song meant for them.

~Cheryl B. Engelhardt