Music on the Hill opens its fall 2016 season with “Threads of Light: A Tapestry of African-American Spirituals” at Norwalk Concert Hall this Saturday evening, Oct. 1.

The concert premieres a new work by Wilton resident and Music on the Hill artistic director Ellen Dickinson. Dickinson has woven together over 30 spirituals in three movements–Hope, Journey, Glory–including both familiar songs (“Deep River;” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) and others rarely heard. The three movements are connected by selected poetry by African-American poets, which will be read by special guests.

“Threads of Light” will feature the Music on the Hill Festival Chorus and the Special Projects Choir of the Unitarian Church in Westport. They will be joined by soloists Harriett Alfred, soprano, and Edward Pleasant, baritone, and by trumpet, bells, and upright bass. Dickinson will conduct.

Both Alfred and Pleasant have had long and distinguished careers as solo performers. Pleasant is highly regarded as a recording artist and as an actor in opera and musical theater. Alfred has received awards as a music educator in New Haven and is a featured performer with several choral groups there.

Dickinson reviewed hundreds of spirituals to arrive at the thirty represented in “Threads of Light” and chose trumpet and bells to paint a musical picture of heaven, so integral to the songs of enslaved African-Americans longing for “a better place.” Trumpet and bass introduce elements of jazz, a musical descendant of the original spirituals.

“Threads of Light” begins at 7:30 p.m.. It is offered to the community free of charge.

Music on the Hill programs are funded in part by a grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Music on the Hill is an independent non-profit organization.

Dickinson has conducted choral and handbell ensembles for more than twenty-five years. During that time, she has been the founding director of nine different ensembles, including the Jubilate Ringers (2006) and the Weston Summer Chorus (2003), now the Music on the Hill Summer Chorus. She was Director of Music at Norfield Congregational Church for eleven years, and has served as guest conductor of the Fairfield County Chorale and the Florilegium Chamber Choir in New York City.

An active carillon recitalist and teacher,  Dickinson is College Carillonneur at Trinity College in Hartford and director of the carillon program at Yale University. She holds a B.A. in music from Yale College and the Master of Music in Organ Performance from the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music.

The inspiration for “Threads of Light” comes in part from events on the Yale campus last fall, which Ms. Dickinson witnessed from the heights of Harkness Tower, where Yale’s 55-bell carillon is housed.

PHOTO CAPTION: The Music on the Hill Festival Chorus, shown at last December’s “Sounds of the Season” Christmas concert at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton

PHOTO CAPTION: Ellen Dickinson receives applause following the performance of her suite of French carols arranged for handbells, performed by the Jubilate Ringers in a Christmas concert last December at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton. Members of the handbell ensemble will perform with the choral ensembles for “Threads of Light.”