Odyssey Project students read poems of struggle and survival with chamber choir

Students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Project will join the Madison Choral Project  for a unique collaboration. Odyssey students will read original works in conjunction with the chamber choir’s performance of “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes.” The concerts—which also include works by Frank Martin, James MacMillan, and Ralph Vaughan Williams—take place at Madison’s First Congregational Church, 1609 University Avenue, on May 20 at 7:30 p.m. and May 22 at 2:30 p.m.

Rocillo and Jones will read their work as part of 'Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes.' (Above: Jelissa Williams; photos by Dick Baker)
Rocillo and Jones will read their work as part of ‘Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes.’ (Above: Jelissa Williams; photos by Dick Baker)

David Baker’s “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes,” a jazz-inflected classical piece, is a setting of Mari Evans’ poems about life on the margins. Baker and Evans are both African American artists, and Baker died in March after a distinguished career at Indiana University.

The Madison Choral Project will be accompanied by a combo of bass, guitar, drums, piano, and flute. To better connect the work with the Madison community, the ensemble features Odyssey students Kelly Dixon, Steven Jones, Sahira Rocillo, and Jelissa Williams reading their own poems about struggle and survival.

In “Homeless in Wisconsin,” Jones explains how it feels to freeze on the streets.

I’m new here. Need to find work soon.

No family around, so shelter would be nice.

Temperature will be below zero tonight.

People are busy hurrying, hopping, and hiking

to their destinations.

My coat is wool but worn, withered, and whipped.

It’s like I don’t exist.

Kelly Dixon movingly celebrates her father's perseverance.
Kelly Dixon movingly celebrates her father’s perseverance.

Dixon dedicates “Papa’s Hands” to the memory of her father, an Army veteran. She movingly celebrates his perseverance.

Papa’s hands are rough and gritty,

Filled with strength and tenderness. 

I often take his hand in mine 

and feel the pains of his labor to keep his family alive.

A sense of empowerment

The Odyssey Project is UW-Madison’s humanities class for adults facing barriers to a college education, including poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, and incarceration. They receive free tuition, textbooks, childcare, and a weekly dinner, along with earning six credits in English. Graduates of the program gain a sense of empowerment and often transform their lives. Many go on to finish their degrees and find meaningful work in the community.

The Madison Choral Project, directed by Albert Pinsonneault, is a professional choir with 22 elite singers. Tickets for the May 20 and 22 concerts are available in advance at www.themcp.org and also at the door. Advance tickets are $20, tickets at the door are $25, and student tickets are $10.

For more information about the UW Odyssey Project, contact director Emily Auerbach, 608-262-3733, emily.auerbach@wisc.edu.