Ithaca College Martin Luther King Concert Features World Premiere

By Dave Maley, January 24, 2023

“Don’t Look Away” calls for engagement in anti-racist work.

The Ithaca College School of Music, Theatre, and Dance held its annual concert honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday, Jan. 27, in Ford Hall, Whalen Center for Music. Free and open to the public, the concert featured the world premiere of “Don’t Look Away (Requiem for a World that Never Was),” a thought-provoking piece about racism in America.

Directed by Baruch Whitehead, associate professor of music education, the concert allowed attendees to experience the heart of the African-American musical experience, including spirituals, gospel, jazz, and popular. There was also a reading of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Among the performers were student ensembles from the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance; the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers; and alumni and faculty—including first-year assistant voice professor Jean Bernard Cerin as part of the duo Kuwento Mizik and Grammy-winning opera and Broadway artist Zachary James ’05.

Video of the concert will be available for viewing in the concerts archive.

“It has been an honor for me to direct the annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Ithaca College for over 15 years,” said Whitehead. “This year’s concert is filled with thought-provoking, exhilarating, and incredible performances. Dr. King gave his life for all Americans, and it is up to us to continue his legacy every day of the year.”

Commissioned by associate voice professor Dawn Pierce ’97, “Don’t Look Away” is a large-scale, multi-movement piece for orchestra, choir, and soloists written by Ithaca College alumni John Conahan ’96 (composer) and Meaghan Boeing ’00 (librettist). The project stems from deep discussions among the three on how to engage in anti-racist work and marry it with the art of music performance and is designed as a call to engagement and point of entry for majority white communities that may be unsure of how to begin this difficult conversation.

“The exhortation ‘Don’t Look Away’ invites white people to examine privilege and place in this system and go on a journey to see how someone may experience bias and blind spots, not with an aim to evoke guilt, but to recognize how good, well-meaning people can perpetuate a system of injustice,” said Boeing. “This piece could never replace works that authentically express the experience of racism. It is designed to foster acknowledgement and ownership and inspire white audiences to join in the struggle for justice with clear minds and humble hearts.”

More information on the composition and the artistic team behind it, as well as resources for further education and activism, can be found at