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Thursday January 20th

PlayMakers' 'Songs of Light and Wonder' concert hopes to bring the community together

DaShawn Hickman playing the pedal steel courtesy of DaShawn Hickman
Buy Photos DaShawn Hickman playing the pedal steel courtesy of DaShawn Hickman

With the semester coming to close, it’s finally time for some holiday cheer — particularly in the form of song. At the "Songs of Light and Wonder" concert at PlayMakers Repertory Company, eight composers and musicians will come together to create what music director Laurelyn Dossett calls a “collaborative concert” of holiday music.  

All of the musical acts come from different musical backgrounds and use very different instruments. From folk and the fiddle to gospel and guitar, Dossett said she wants this concert to uplift people's spirits.

“In the times that we’re in, people are looking for connective tissue and light,” Dossett said. “Things that are hopeful and uplifting and some of that is traditional music, holiday music, some of that is comforting to people.”

The concert will combine both reinterpreted traditional holiday songs and newly composed songs by Dossett and some of the other musicians in the concert. For the concert, Dossett personally contacted each artist and asked them to be part of the show. This personal connection, Dossett said, is important to get across her vision. 

“What I asked the artists is to keep the theme of light in mind,” Dossett said. “It’s very kind of emotional and not musical in a way. I wanted people to come and feel connected and moved. It’s not 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.' It’s 'I Wonder as I Wander.'”

One of those musicians is DaShawn Hickman, who plays in a pedal steel guitar duo with his wife Wendy Hickman. The pedal steel is a kind of electric guitar where the strings are attached to pedals. Hickman learned pedal steel from his mother and plays in a style he said dates back to 1903. 

Pedal steel performances can be most frequently found in historically Black churches similar to the one Hickman grew up in. Beyond the use of this uncommon instrument, Hickman said this concert will continually challenge the listener’s ear.

“For this show, it’s going to be interesting because I’ve never actually played it with acoustic instruments,” Hickman said.

Some of the acts will be using banjo, box guitar and fiddle.

“I love the combinations of styles,” Dossett said. “We have a song with sacred steel and banjo and it’ll be awesome even though you wouldn’t really think of those things going together.”

Both Hickman and Dossett said they value the diversity of sound in the musical lineup for "Songs of Light and Wonder."

“I think people should really come and just experience it because it is so different. You hardly see different cultures coming together and making one sound,” Hickman said.

The "Songs of Light and Wonder" concert is a continuation of the "Songs of Hope and Justice" concerts Dossett arranged last year that were performed at the N.C. Folk Festival. Dossett said she wants to show that “protest music” is still composed today. Hickman met Dossett during the "Songs of Hope and Justice" tour.

“Nobody's thinking about color, race, gender or creed,” Hickman said. “Nobody’s thinking about that. You’re just in the moment enjoying the music. Hopefully, with these next couple of series that we’re doing, we’ll bring people closer together and spruce up the holiday spirit a little bit.”

Last year, Dossett worked closely with PlayMakers as the head composer for its commissioned show, “Leaving Eden.” 

Brittany Petruzzi, PlayMakers marketing and communications associate, said they are excited to have Dossett back on their stage.

“We wanted to make sure Chapel Hill had something holiday-ish,” Petruzzi said. “So Chapel Hill residents don’t have to go all the way to Durham or Raleigh to find something for the holidays. So we talked to Laurelyn and asked if she would come and do her holiday concert here.”

The concert will also include a special guest appearance by PlayMakers veteran Ray Dooley who is known for his one-man renditions of "A Christmas Carol." Dooley will perform a brief excerpt from "A Christmas Carol" during the concert.

Dossett said the show will be performed in Greensboro three times before coming to Chapel Hill and all the musicians are excited about the coming performance. The other musicians performing include Riley Baugus, Alex McKinney, Scott Manring, Alex Bingham and Libby Rodenbough of Mipso. 

“In a time where our society is becoming more and more polarized, I want to have an evening of an antidote to that,” Dossett said.

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