The leaves are turning, temperatures are dipping and Darin Atwater’s Soulful Symphony is preparing to debut its 2013/2014 season at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore.

To fans of good music, all is right with the world.

Atwater is the uber-composer who years ago created a musical phenomenon by blending a variety of musical genres in performances featuring mostly-Black musicians, the Soulful Symphony. He and the musicians, who hail from as far away as New York and include many from the Washington, D.C. area, have been rehearsing for the symphony’s first concert of the new season, “Say Amen Somebody,” scheduled for 8 p.m. on Sept. 21, 2013 at the Hippodrome Theatre of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.

“This concert will be a celebration of American gospel featuring new and original arrangements by Atwater for his 85-piece orchestra and vocals,” according to a news release. “In partnership with the Hippodrome Foundation, Soulful Symphony is the resident ensemble” of the France-Merrick center.

The concert will culminate a week that saw Atwater take his talent to Baltimore’s children. On Sept. 17, he and two musicians traveled to Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts, where he delivered a lively lecture and musical performance for students accompanied by two other musicians.

“It was a beautiful day for beautiful kids,” said Debbie Thomas, the principal at Booker T. She said the experience created “a lifelong memory” for her students.

“Atwater was incredible, and his friends! What they did, the time they spent, was just a huge deposit into the lives of the students,” Thomas said.

Olive Waxter, director of the Hippodrome Foundation, had high praises for the Soulful Symphony. She said the group will play three concerts in the 2013/2014 partnership with the foundation, including “Say Amen,” a holiday concert scheduled for Dec. 14 and a final concert of the season on May 4 entitled, “So Many Stars,” which will take listeners on a journey of various forms of music over many generations.

Waxter said Atwater agreed to visit schools after partnering with the foundation in its effort to expose local students to music in the schools. The Hippodrome Foundation’s Soulful Symphony Artist in Residence Program, its Camp Hippodrome and regular master classes that are offered to students make up the program. Officials said the foundation has helped more than 40,000 children to learn about music since the Hippodrome started in 2004. The Artist in Residence Program has been helping students at Lansdowne High School for several years.

In a statement, Amy Rosenkrans, director of humanities for Baltimore City Public Schools, said local schools “benefit so much” from programs such as Atwater’s visit to Booker T. Washington Middle School.

Atwater agreed.

“This program works,” he said in a statement. “I understand how much it means to the students. We care about them and their music! This is all about helping these kids believe in themselves.”

Guests at the school performance included the Rev. Alvin Hathaway, pastor of Union Baptist Church; the Rev. Sheridan Yeary, pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church; and Rosenkrans. Students helped erected an outdoor stage for their encounter with the musicians.

Some of the children who were treated to Atwater’s magic at the school will undoubtedly be in the audience when he lifts his baton on Sept. 21 for “Say Amen Somebody.”

The symphony will premiere a new song, “Footprints,” which he wrote and orchestrated.

Waxter said Atwater is as gifted at inspiring children as he is at composing and performing music.

“They look up at Darin and they see an experienced professional who has accomplished his dream,” she said. “They are inspired by that.”

Zachary Lester

AFRO Staff Writer