Nathaniel Dett Chorale | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Nathaniel Dett Chorale

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale was named for the performer, composer and pedagogue Nathaniel Dett. It is a 22-voice professional chamber choir based in Toronto and founded in 1998 by conductor Brainerd Blyden-Taylor. It was the first choir in Canada to actively promote "Afrocentric music."

In forming the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor's goal was "to build bridges of understanding, appreciation, and acceptance between communities of people, both Afrocentric and other, through the medium of music." Joy Jae-Ryung Lee has been its collaborative pianist since 2006.


The Nathaniel Dett Chorale champions "Afrocentric music of all styles" including classical, spiritual, gospel, jazz, folk and blues. Such diversity is exemplified in the programming, including concerts of exclusively Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian and Ghanaian music. As a result, less emphasis is placed on choral repertoire of a traditional nature. The choir often turns its attention to music by choral composers decidedly off the mainstream. For example, in February 2011, the ensemble presented a concert titled Voices of the Diaspora (see Immigrant Diasporas in Canada), highlighting the choral traditions of Haiti, and featuring the music of Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume.

Concerts and Touring

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale generally presents three concerts per season, including the annual Christmas concert at the Glenn Gould Studio. The choir often performs at St. Timothy's Church in Toronto where Blyden-Taylor holds the position of music-director. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale has appeared with a wide number of recognized artists, such as jazz singers Molly Johnson and Jackie Richardson and sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. It has also performed at events honouring such well-known figures as Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Oscar Peterson.

In April 2007, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale appeared in concert at the U.S Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where Dett's music is housed. In 2009, the choir was the only Canadian ensemble invited to participate in the events surrounding the inauguration of President Barack Obama. On 19 January (Martin Luther King Day), the Nathaniel Dett Chorale gave a concert at the Smithsonian Institution and on inauguration day, 20 January, it performed a concert at the Canadian embassy. Blyden-Taylor recalled: "We were pleased and flattered by the invitations. We not only represent Afrocentric music, but also a kind of diversity that's responsive to Obama's ideas about community and coming together."

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale tours extensively across Canada and the US. In 2004, the choir performed at the Polyfollia choral festival in France.

Educational Outreach

Since January 2004 the choir has offered a curriculum-based integrated arts program by the name of Canaan Lan', focusing on the theme of the Underground Railroad and Black migration to Canada. It aims to provide greater exposure of Afrocentric culture within the school system.

In 2008, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale established a training choir for high-school students of African descent. Pupils are admitted on the basis of musical ability and potential, and receive training in vocal technique, music theory and Afrocentric history. Students attend regular rehearsals and are given the opportunity to be mentored by, and to perform with, members of the regular choir.

Awards and Honours

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale was the subject of the documentary film Carry Me Home: The Story of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, which won a Gemini Award (Canada Award) in 2003, and also received a Gemini nomination the same year for best ensemble performance in a performing arts piece.

See also Nathaniel Dett.

Select Bibliography

"Brainerd Blyden-Taylor and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale," The WholeNote, Sept 1998

"The Dett choir is ready to roll," Choirs Ontario, Oct/Nov 1998

St. Bernard, Donna-Michelle. "Let my people go," AfroToronto, 12 Mar 2007

Eatock, Colin. "Sharing our national Dett," The WholeNote, Feb 2009

Kristy, Dylan. "Voices, spirits soar in Amherstburg," Windsor Star, 18 Jan 2010


Listen to the Lambs: The Music of Nathaniel Dett. 2002. Marquis 7 74718 12932

An Indigo Christmas. 2003. Marquis 7 7471 81321 2 3

Nguzo Saba. 2010. in.Dett.ed Records


Carry Me Home: The Story of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. 2005 Marquis MAR 801

An Indigo Christmas Live. 2005. Marquis MAR 802

External Links