Let me blunt. I’m not fond of Jesus. Of course, what I know of the historical man is impressive, but I’m not a big fan of the one who people cry out to for salvation. Too many atrocities in his name, too much of an excuse to not think, too much weirdness in the story that it was my fault that he died and by the way, if he is the Immortal God, what’s the big deal?
But I recognize spiritual force when I see—and hear it— and frankly, when someone like my old friend René is singing at the piano with the music teacher “congregation” gospelling out the refrain, I don’t care what the lyrics are. Spiritual power was present in heaps last night and you’d have to be a fool not to feel your heart moved by that energy in that room. As per yesterday’s thoughts, the lighting was wrong and the room was ugly, but her spiritual force, transmitted by sound to our awaiting strings of the heart, transcended it all and charged the air. And no more of white folks clapping on the beat or singing with the wrong voice, but yes, the few black folks in this mostly homogeneous Orff world (how sad that this hasn’t changed in 35 years) were the captains of this ship and led us expertly through the calm and stormy waters of the soul. Amen!
It reminded me that my teacher Avon did the same in the Kansas City Conference in 1985 and I believe a young René was part of that stirring evening all those years back. It recalled the few times the Georgia Sea Island Singers came to the Orff Conference. And last night was certainly set-up from the performance of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. A different world than Gospel, more European-trained and tamed, but moving none the less.
Spirit has many faces and many different styles of strings to pluck. Yesterday at this Nashville Orff Conference, I got a taste of many of them—English Morris Dancing, Chinese dance and music, Brazilian celebrations and my friend Kofi’s roof-raising Ghana choral session. But damn! the African-American spiritual heritage through song is about as rich as it gets and shows no sign of losing its power. I can’t shout “Praise Jesus!” without being misunderstood, but yes, praise to Spirit and its presence in whatever room we enter and the room we make for it in our heart.