Noisy Neighbors

NOISY NEIGHBORS: Omar Thomas, ‘We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements’

Omar Thomas

We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements

“No serious social movement is without its soundtrack,” writes the composer Omar Thomas in the liner notes to “We Will Know.” In his bid to contribute to the soundtrack for LGBT civil rights, the 30-year-old Berklee professor combines the musical traditions of the black church with jazz. The 28-minute work — four parts and an epilogue — begins with a simple original hymn tune sung with a combination of delicacy and fervor by Nedelka Prescod, accompanied only by piano. As the piece unfolds, it works variations on that theme, Prescod joined by Thomas’s 18-piece large ensemble: “In Memoriam,” an elegy voiced by gorgeous brass harmonies; the vamp-driven “In Meditation,” in which members of the ensemble “congregation” break into individual free-jazz “testifying”; the celebratory “May 9th, 2012,” a contrapuntal arrangement of the hymn tune with the traditional “We Shall Overcome,” commemorating the day President Obama declared his support for marriage equality; and a cautionary “Epilogue.” As a composer, Thomas knows how to make a multiplicity of independent voices sound clearly, as part of a multihued whole — a metaphor for civil rights if ever there was one. His message wouldn’t be nearly so effective if the music wasn’t so good.



Jon Garelick can be reached at