An inspiring program that celebrates the unifying power of music and spirit of resilience will air on public television stations across the country in February. The concert documentary “Dreams of Hope” tells the story of a historic performance at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, more than 50 years after a hate crime there killed four African American girls. An initiative called Violins of Hope contributed painstakingly restored musical instruments to the event, including violins recovered from Holocaust concentration camps, symbols of resilience in the face of hate, discrimination and racism. Musicians and artists, including some from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, performed and contributed to the creation of the concert and documentary.
Directed by filmmaker David Macon and UAB University Professor of Music Henry Panion III, Ph.D., and presented and distributed by American Public Television, “Dreams of Hope” will air on public television stations nationwide for Black History Month (check local listings for airdates). The national broadcast of “Dreams of Hope” is sponsored by UAB Medicine. A premiere is planned for Thursday, Feb. 6.
With a captivating storyline written by Macon, “Dreams of Hope” blends concert performance footage with behind-the-scenes interviews chronicling the event’s preparation and reflecting on its significance. The program includes reflections by Richard Arrington Jr., the first African American mayor of Birmingham; Jeffrey and Gail Bayer, co-chairs of Violins of Hope Birmingham; Chris Hamlin, former pastor of 16th Street Baptist; Amnon and Assi Weinstein, founders of Violins of Hope; Panion; violinist Caitlin Edwards, who returned to her hometown of Birmingham to play the Auschwitz violin, originally built around 1850; and Sallie Downs, who spearheaded the initiative to bring Violins of Hope to Birmingham.
Concert footage features the premiere of “Dreams of Hope for Solo Violin & Orchestra” by acclaimed composer and conductor Panion, commissioned especially for this concert. Alongside the Dreams of Hope Orchestra, the concert features vocalists Valerie Smith and Lenora Goodman-Panion, dancer Kelsey Ebersold, and the Miles College Choir.
“Dreams of Hope” is a demonstration of what can happen when people of different backgrounds and cultures come together on common ground and communicate with a common voice, recognizing yet celebrating their differences, says founder Amnon Weinstein.
“First there was John Williams’‘Schindler’s List,’ and now there’s Henry Panion’s ‘Dreams of Hope,’” Amnon said. “It’s a masterpiece that should be heard at Carnegie Hall and all over the world. There are just no words for the brilliant gifts of music we received that evening.”
The story of these violins and the Jewish people is of survival, hope and triumph, one that so parallels the story of the 16th Street Baptist Church and its people, Panion says.
“Having suffered the worst fate imaginable, the church and these violins have been beautifully restored and are now magnificent relics for all to behold,” Panion said. “As a people of the human race, we continue to strive and hope for a better world through our struggles, our trials, our tribulations and our triumphs.”
Faculty and students in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Music were given the valuable opportunity to participate in the concert and documentary production of “Dreams of Hope.” Goodman-Panion, UAB music graduate and former marching band drum major, is a featured vocalist on one number, Richard Smallwood’s “I Love the Lord.” UAB Assistant Professor of Music Craig Brandwein served as librarian, and UAB Chief Recording Engineer James Bevelle recorded the live performance and mixed “Dreams of Hope.” UAB music technology majors and graduates Ian Keel, Davis Grimes, Joshua Ford and Danny Brown served as videographers and photographers for the live event.