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Musician-teacher brings crowd to their feet

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The first sight of the musician and teacher Anne-Marie Hudley-Simmons was a bit surprising - the program said she was celebrating her 50th anniversary of musical ministry to the church, but she didn't look like she was even 50 years old, let alone playing music that long.

"They must mean it's the church's jubilee," the writer thought, but no, the jubilee was indeed for Hudley-Simmons, who performed with jaw-dropping brilliance before an SRO crowd in Jamaica's Calvary Baptist Church last Saturday.

After her sister-in-law, Eileen Simmons of Antioch Baptist Church offered an opening prayer, she began, after her own silent prayer, with O Sacred Head Now Wounded by J.S. Bach, played on the marimba. The writer can think of no other woman who plays the marimba, and certainly no one who plays Bach on it.

Hudley-Simmons, dressed in sparkling gold and white, dedicated this work to "The Arts Family." Later, Zora Liburd Clement accompanied her on the piano during Peter Tanner's lovely Sonata for marimba and piano.

In Part II Hudley-Simmons left the marimba to play the first movement of Beethoven's Pathetique with great passion at the church's grand piano; this work was dedicated to "The Piano Student."

Then, Hudley-Simmons showed off her vibrant and moving contralto with renditions of Carl Bohm's Calm As the Night, the first part sung in the original German, and Frances Alllitsen's The Lord is My Light, accompanied this time by Kelley Wyatt on the piano. (Hudley-Simmons' assistants were always careful to raise the piano lid all the way up for her numbers so the audience could get the full effect of her playing - you could feel it in your fingertips - but to prop the lid only a little with a copy of the new National Baptist Hymnal for her accompanists.)

Her singing had the audience in the large, bright church on their feet shouting "Bravo!" (Actually, it should have been "Brava!" but no matter). Hudley-Simmons then performed a medley of hymns for "Piano in Worship," dedicated to her parents, the late Reverend and Mrs. William McKinley Hudley.

After the intermission, scholarships were presented by the Friends of Young Artists. The organization was founded in 1976 to provide scholarships for minority young people who have an interest and talent in the arts, to coach students, and to develop concerts and workshops, among other good works.

Back on stage, Hudley-Simmons - who was an accompanist for the late Broadway star Theresa Merritt Hines - sang one of Hines' best numbers, Irving Berlin's bluesy Suppertime, followed by the spirituals On Ma Journey, and I Ain't Got Weary Yet, which she dedicated to "everyone who's been in ministry for 50 years!" She followed this up with Langston Hughes' humorous Fi-Yer! and another spiritual, Witness.

But the best part of the show came when Hudley-Simmons returned to the marimba and was joined by percussionist Rodney Plummer, who dazzled on the bongo and conga drums, pianist Elmer Hammond and bassist Nathaniel Johnson in rocking versions of Gimme Dat Ol' Time Religion, a medley of spirituals and Wade in the Water. This part of the service was dedicated to her church family. Then, Hudley-Simmons played the Flight of the Bumblebee, which, she said, "describes my life!" The nervous little classic by Rimsky-Korsakov is perfect for the marimba.

Later her brother, William Hudley read a hilarious tribute to her, and Hudley-Simmons was showered with flowers, effusive praise from friends, students and family, a citation from Borough President Claire Shulman, a brief piano piece by her granddaughter Caswanna Tene, an old letter from her deceased parents read by Jubilee Committee member Rosie Sheard Parris, and a poem/photograph montage from a former student, "You Teach."

The rousing recital was sponsored by the Friends of Young Artists, and Rana Productions.

Qguide writer Arlene McKanic by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com, or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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