Gospel and Soul workshop, a personal perspective by Lawrie
It’s 10:42 a.m. Sunday February 6, 2011……
The stage risers are only half up, setting up the sound system is taking longer than expected, choir members are starting to filter in for our last rehearsal and sound check, there’s still the lights to set up and choir stage positions still to assign. And people are edgy, they’re excited, anxious, all at the same time. A nervous energy fills the theatre.
Then the melody of Thank You Lord, quietly and repeatedly, escapes from Eric’s keyboard, and Kim gathers everyone together, sits them down, quietly goes over a prayer, tells them what to expect and what to be prepared for, reminds them why we are here and what we are capable of accomplishing.
And just like that the mood changes to quiet confidence. We are here to enjoy the experience, to share with our friends and loved ones what we have learned over the last few days. Right then I know “everything will be, EVERYTHING will be, alright”.
Since Thursday night, sixty-five of us have been in a Gospel Music workshop under the direction of Mr. Eric Dozier from Bakewell, Tennessee and Kim Pacheco from Rawlings, North Carolina. From where I stand now, about two hours from our benefit concert, to that night only three days ago, seems like an eternity. I remember looking at everyone’s face that first night, as Kim and Eric introduce themselves and spend the next fifteen minutes or so just singing. Singing jazz, singing gospel, singing soul, and singing a little funk. Peoples’ faces shine with wonder at the talent of our two directors, but also reflect a little puzzlement. When do we get to sing? Our time is coming, rushing towards us with a spirit and intensity that will touch all our hearts and souls.
I know because I have had the pleasure of singing with Eric and Kim on several occasions in British Columbia and in Washington. I know what to expect, I know what is coming. And still it hits me, it hits me like a ton of bricks. My spirit, my higher being is touched, and stroked with the melodies, the words, the intensity and suffering that these songs represent. What it means to have been nothing more than chattel, viewed as non-human, as property to be bought and sold and abused.
I’m the only one in the room crying! And just as quickly it passes.
That night, I toss and turn. I’m not restless, in fact, I’m incredibly tired. But the words, the words just keep swirling around and around in my head.
For me, another Gospel workshop has begun.
Friday evening we are back at it again. The group is less inhibited now. They are beginning to know each other, have made a few friends. They have discovered that you don’t necessarily have to have a great voice to be here, though several are very, very good singers, rather you just have to love to sing. It moves them, it speaks to them. I can see that they are more intense, hungrier to explore this musical genre. They hang on Eric’s words, his story telling, his musical direction. They are animated by Kim’s exhortations, by the range and depth of her voice. And we learn, we learn new songs, we struggle with finding our notes, we struggle with moving and clapping to the beat. We laugh. Many cry. We encourage each other. We learn our parts and go over them when other sections are learning their parts.
We are now a group. In six short hours, a room full of mostly strangers, have become one unified, powerful, lean, mean singing machine. Not always on the right note or word, but singing and singing boldly. We trust each other.
We end with a prayer. A simple prayer, Thank You Lord. That’s it, three words, four part harmony. I begin to cry after the first words. I cannot even stand, I can only sit and listen. And feel the tears running down my cheeks. I feel like an idiot. Sleep will be hard tonight.
Saturday is an all day affair. People are still high from the first two sessions. I see small groups of people helping each other to find the right note, the tempo, the rhythm. We have changed. We have changed from that first night, rigidly sitting in our chairs wondering what to expect. We are more relaxed, we laugh, we ask questions.
Something, something has been awakened in all of us.
And then I am hit again. Something Eric and Kim said in August when they were here for the first workshop, becomes crystal clear. They said that they never have doubts about how a workshop will turn out because they don’t work with our physical self, they work with the spirit. They have no doubts that people will remember the words or hit their notes because they have implanted, or are implanting them, in our spirit. We have only to believe. Just open your heart and the words will come out they have always said. And now I know it to be true. Because when I sleep at night, in my subconscious I sing these songs over and over in my head.
And they sound beautiful!
Saturday turns out to be a long, hard day. We are learning more difficult pieces. “The Old Ship of Zion”, “What do we Want”, old songs, new songs, full of meaning and indignation. Of wrongs done in the past and hope for the future.
People are getting tired, they are struggling to maintain sections, to maintain harmony. Basses are singing tenor parts and altos are a bit indecisive. Sopranos are challenged, and Tenors, well they are the strongest part of the choir and seem to maintain their composure and hold us all together. And yet members don’t get angry or frustrated or any other number of human frailties. We sing, we make mistakes, we keep on singing. Eric is pushing us now, he pulls whatever is being held back right out of us. He challenges, he does not settle for just okay, the music and words and feelings are too important for just okay. I am struggling, I can’t seem to get the words to one song, I mumble through them. Over and over, I just can’t seem to remember the words.
We go way past lunch time. And then we break. Our hosts have provided us with a wonderful lunch. And everyone is talking, laughing, excited again. The rigors of the morning a memory.
One more song to learn for the afternoon. It is going to be our closing song. It is a Baha’i prayer that Eric has put to music. Except for the Baha’is in the choir, I wonder how many realize they are learning a Baha’i prayer. This is unity, people from all walks of life, from all differing forms of faith, singing now, rejoicing in this wonderful melody, asking God to create in them a pure heart.
The afternoon session is not long, just this one song and then a quick review. People are exhausted. It has been hard for Eric and Kim to generate the high levels of excitement, so easily reached in the first few sessions. But we all feel exhilarated, somehow more connected. Connected to our spiritual side. I bump into one of my friends in the coat room. He looks funny, I can’t put my finger on it until he says, when I ask him if he is alright, he replies “you can’t help but feel moved by that last song”.
And there is the whole workshop, wrapped up in a few words, You can’t help but feel moved by these songs!
True to form the concert starts on time and is wonderful. We sing, we interact with the audience, Eric bridges between us and the crowd, he educates. He is tired I can see it. But you cannot hear it in his voice. He asks Kim to do a number she did the previous evening at the restaurant. It’s called “Strange Fruit” and is a song about the lynchings that took place in the South. It is haunting, it is dark, very dark. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to sing that song. And twice in two days.
And then it’s over. The choir members are interacting with family and friends and it feels good, so good.
In about an hour, all the staging is packed up, the lights have been put away, there are no cords, no musical instruments left, the hall is empty. Only a small group who have been helping with the take down are left talking quietly. And I ask myself would I do it again.
In a heartbeat…….