A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Oratory and the Old Guy--the musical

Source: I have no I idea. I looked, I really looked. I found it on this website: Take Lessons
This post is a continuation of one from a little more than a year ago. In Oratory and the Old Guy, I wrote about speaking on the stage at Ford's Theater and the anxiousness I have felt about that sort of thing for years. It wasn't always the case but, blah blah blah...

Today, I did something I hadn't done in a long, long time. I sang something I wasn't sure I could master. I've been singing for almost all of my life and there are songs that are my wheelhouse. I can do them without a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I love singing them, they are comfortable for me. As a matter of fact, there are three or four songs I have sung numerous times in the past five years. I 'get it in my voice' and go.

I was asked several months ago to sing for a civic organization at the end of this month. I decided to work up a song completely out of my comfort zone. The piece is from an artist named Jubilant Sykes. It is an old spiritual titled, A City Called of Heaven. The video below is not the piece but gives you an example of what Sykes can do and the style of the piece.

Now, one of the things you might notice is that Mr. Sykes and I do not share the same skin tone. One of my hesitations to singing this piece for years was that it was a spiritual. I can count on one hand the number of times that I've seen a spiritual work for a white singer or choir. I do remember all the cringe-worthy ones. I struggle not just with the stylistic issues but the fact that these are songs which connect to a people's oppression at the hands of people who looked like me.
I talked with a friend a while back about this and they asked if I was using the race issue to mask that I was both drawn to and terrified by the song. They informed me that their people would be able to work through another white man singing a spiritual. Hmmmm.
For whatever reasons, this piece has become part of my DNA for the past decade and a half. I can't shake it. So I decided to embrace it. Our teaching artist told my student's this year that sonnets have an urgency to them, the speaker has to say them--has to say them. I feel that way about this song.
My first break was that the person who was going to accompany me has been a friend for almost as long as this piece has been stuck in my head. He is one of the best musicians I have had the privilege to know and he listened to the piece and crafted an arrangement that honors Sykes version but fits me as a singer. My contention for this piece is that is has to be worship and not a performance and he got it. Boy, did he get it.
This piece was hard work. It is such a simple song in so many ways, it can be deceptive. There is an opera student who I usually turn to whip my voice into shape. I have 40 years of bad habits he has to exorcize and I have been blessed to have him around to work with me for the past year or so. Unfortunately, he is spending the summer leading a camp in Oregon (or one of those Portlandy-Seattlee states). On my music, I wrote Sean-esque statements to remind me what he would have reminded me: "Sing through that note." "Bring the sound forward." "Don't be such a wuss!" It helped.
Finally, when it came time to sing, I just got out of the way. I honestly believe worship is a partnership between leaders and congregants with God as the audience. It's Kierkegaard at his best. Like I stated in the previous blog, I can tear apart one of my performances at cheetah-like speed and with lion-like ferocity. My one statement will be that it went fine. There are things I want to work on and things which surprised me, but, it is what it is. I had a sense of peace.
I did sing one other song, one of my standards. Its like an old comfortable pair of shoes, it just fits and I love singing it. It went fine as well. The actual performer is a young lady named Ginny Owens. BTW-I don't look or sound like her either.

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