Talisman 25th Anniversary Concert

Sketch of Bing Concert Hall interior, Stanford University, by Lisa Hsia

I went to the concert because my friend Ron invited me. To tell the truth, I barely skimmed his email before buying the tickets– if Ron is making music, I want to be there, and it doesn’t matter what it is. It turned out to be the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of his college a cappella group, Talisman, featuring more than a hundred current members and alumni. Can you imagine that many unaccompanied voices on a single stage? Here’s the opening number (in rehearsal):

Talisman’s mission is to tell stories through song. The group began with a focus on African music and its core repertoire still seems to come from the African diaspora, with an accompanying cultural (and sometimes political) consciousness extending to the performers’ remarks between the sets. As someone who nearly always wants more context for all things, I found my heart filling with profound appreciation for this approach. Music — art — is not just for beauty and romance and hope, it is also for grief and despair and the hard road toward healing. More and more, these days, I find that even in the midst of something lovely, I also yearn for acknowledgement of what we sometimes think of as the dark side of life. If you’re fully honoring a culture, any culture, you’ll need to touch the pain that is present in all of our histories, and at the moment, in African and African American communities, that pain is still full and fresh and too often silent/silenced.

I really felt, during the two-hour concert, that the performance embodied a philosophy I hold so dear: the seeing, and cherishing, of everyone. There were numerous solos, the singers were so diverse and so beautiful (and it was interesting to imagine the different meanings this concert might hold for the current members versus the ones who’ve been out of university for twenty-five years!), and there were speeches for #blacklivesmatter, for Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr, and for Dan Ha, a former Talisman member who passed last year. I spent much of the evening in tears, moved by joy and truth. It was a special night. And I’ve been singing a bit more since then, too.

A few more videos for you:

current Talisman members rehearsing

my friend Ron, a few years ago (soloist starting at 2:10)

my friend Nicole, who was also in the concert

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