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Black Spirituals

BrotherAidan

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If anyone watched the Michael Jackson memorial yesterday, the opening song, sung by the choir {Soon and Very Soon, by contemporary gospel artist, Andre Crouch: Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King 3x; Hallelujah, hallelujah, we're going to see the King. No more crying there, we are going to see the King 3x, Hallelujah (etc)} and the song sung by Lionel Ritchie (I wasn't familiar with it; interestingly it drew little or no comment today because in my opinion, it was almost too powerful for the secular audience and reporters to handle) - both of these songs were very powerful.

They reminded me that the only thing outside the Orthodox Tradition that moves me like Vespers or Liturgy is Black Spirituals. There is a purity of emotion and directness and a total, unabashed reliance upon God in much of this music.

Also, I find the theology of the spirituals to be often not that far off the mark in relation to Orthodox theology. Spirituals often just proclaim truths as people experience them with no attempt at explaining the mystery behind them.

I know there is an element of the musical genre that is not much more than repetitive, emotion-inducing R&B with theologically weak lyrics; but the best of this music is close to the heart of Orthdoxy, in my opinion.

General similarities in themes in spirituals compared to Orthodox hymnology and/or prayers:
many Old Testament references/allusions
many scriptural references from the New Testament as well
a genuine acknowledgment of Jesus as divine and human without painful efforts to define or explain that mystery
a total trust in God the Father
a total trust in God as the just judge
a total trust in God's mercy
viewing sin as a falling short and sickness rather than the more Western forensic view of sin
the frequent refrain of Lord, when I call upon You, hear me
recounting the deeds of the people of God of old (we call them saints)
even the Blessed Virgin Mary finds her way into this music (unlike virtually all other protestant hymnography) with genuine love and
            admiration, if not quite veneration
strongly Trinitarian in clearly differentiating Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and clearly recognizing all three Persons as divine
deeply personal without devolving into the Jesus is my boyfriend sentimentality of much contemporary Christian music
deeply personal while still recognizing and respecting the Otherness of God and His transcendance

These are just some thoughts.
 

LBK

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Spirituals often just proclaim truths as people experience them with no attempt at explaining the mystery behind them.
Oooh yeah! Black spirituals got SOUL! That's why they're so good.
 

Heorhij

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LBK said:
Spirituals often just proclaim truths as people experience them with no attempt at explaining the mystery behind them.
Oooh yeah! Black spirituals got SOUL! That's why they're so good.
Yes, I agree. Not that I know very many of them, but I have actually heard Paul Robeson (sp.?) singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" since my very early childhood, when I was perhaps 3 or 4. What a great, powerful music...

BTW, "When I Went Down To The River To Pray..." - also one of my very beloved pieces, - is it originally a Black spiritual, too?
 

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I don't know what it is but African-American spirituals, pre 1950, tap into something in God, despite that they come from a heterdox background. I think it is all of the years of suffering similar to many of the early martyrs of the faith.  My favorite is "Ride the Glory Train" by the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir of Newark, NJ
 

BrotherAidan

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aserb said:
I don't know what it is but African-American spirituals, pre 1950, tap into something in God, despite that they come from a heterdox background. I think it is all of the years of suffering similar to many of the early martyrs of the faith.  My favorite is "Ride the Glory Train" by the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir of Newark, NJ
Exactly! I think the experience of suffering provided martyr-like insight. Perhaps, without the benefit of sacraments and correct dogma, their experience brought them into contact with the uncreated Light? Just a specualtion.
 

BrotherAidan

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Heorhij said:
LBK said:
Spirituals often just proclaim truths as people experience them with no attempt at explaining the mystery behind them.
Oooh yeah! Black spirituals got SOUL! That's why they're so good.
Yes, I agree. Not that I know very many of them, but I have actually heard Paul Robeson (sp.?) singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" since my very early childhood, when I was perhaps 3 or 4. What a great, powerful music...

BTW, "When I Went Down To The River To Pray..." - also one of my very beloved pieces, - is it originally a Black spiritual, too?
"When I Went Down To The River To Pray..." may be from the gospel/bluegrass genre. However, although black slaves were concentrated in cotton growing regions of the South, blacks did live in the mountainous areas and would have participated in the musical development there. A contemporary bluegrass group, the Carolina Chocolate Drops , are all African American and are devoted to the black heritage in bluegrass.
 

Salpy

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BrotherAidan said:
"When I Went Down To The River To Pray..." may be from the gospel/bluegrass genre.
You mean this song?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htSXKYs8sQM

It's beautiful.
 

Elisha

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I have a Chanticleer (Grammy award winning male acapella group) album called "Where the Sun will never go down".  It is all baptist or black spirituals (Swing low sweet chariot, deep river, We shall walk through the valley).  The OCA priest at our sister parish 45 min away, Fr. Stephan Meholick, is a Carpatho-Russian born in Pennsylvania.  When he conducts choir, it seems to be a style very similar to how the spirituals are sung (Fr. Stephan talks about "pulse" as opposed to beat.)  When I listen to this Chanticleer album, I can imagine Fr. Stephan conducting.  Kinda interesting.
 

Jetavan

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CC.com: Yesterday you said Orthodoxy was not just one denomination among many. What is the dialogue with evangelicals trying to accomplish, or how do you make that point to evangelicals who do see Orthodoxy as one of many denominations?

Fr. Hopko: I deal with that issue in Speaking the Truth in Love also, because dialogical is the way that it's done. You encounter, you speak, you have to listen in order to relate, so there's always a missionary dimension to dialogue. But it's also a dimension of testimony, it's also a willingness to have yourself tested. Okay, you think that we're wrong -- say why. Let's talk about it.
....
We have a history that we deeply identify with. We speak about Gregory and Basil as if they were our contemporaries, because mystically they are -- they are! And that's one thing that I think evangelicals, at least in their organic traditions, don't relate to.

In fact, a lot of times, as a matter of fact, they don't even know about it. They don't have the foggiest idea who these people even are. I've met United Church of Canada people who didn't know what the Nicene Creed was, and they were at a [World Council of Churches] Faith and Order Commission meeting representing their church! Seriously.

Then they say, "Why do you need it, it's Greek philosophy, it's old-fashioned, no modern person can relate to it." I remember in Russia once, I was there at a meeting exactly on the Nicene Creed, with Catholics and Protestants from all over the world -- it was an international meeting, sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission -- and the English-speaking Protestants were always on my case every day, because I could speak English, about, "Why do you do this, this is irrelevant, la la la."

And then we went to St. Sergius monastery outside Moscow, and there were all these people -- it was under Communism still -- the blind, the lame, all these people were out there in the middle of the night singing and singing, and these Protestants were out there looking at them and they're crying and saying, "I never saw such a piety," and then they said, "By the way, what are they singing?" and I said, "Well, they're just singing the outdated Nicene Creed that no one knows anything about." [laughs]

They were singing the Nicene Creed! And these people were just arguing that it's irrelevant, nobody cares about it, nobody knows what it is -- well, the one thing you had to do if you were Orthodox was to memorize the Nicene Creed and to know how to sing it. So that's the kind of thing that people find shocking.

I remember Desmond Tutu and his wife were at one service, and I heard her lean over to him and say, "I didn't know white folks could sing like this." So that's what the meetings can hopefully overcome and produce, some kind of new understanding of things, not caricatures.
 

Aristocles

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Cain't Nobody do me like Jesus,
Wade in the Water,
I want to be in that number...

Yeah, I was raised in the South...still have a hard time passing up a summertime tent revival while driving through the countryside, even when I disagree with the lyrics.
 

Jetavan

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Αριστοκλής said:
Cain't Nobody do me like Jesus,
Wade in the Water,
I want to be in that number...

Yeah, I was raised in the South...still have a hard time passing up a summertime tent revival while driving through the countryside, even when I disagree with the lyrics.
Don't get in the way of the Holy Spirit. It moves where it wills.
 

choirfiend

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I sang in this group

http://www.clubs.psu.edu/up/essenceofjoy/

during college. I agree--there's some bad theology in some of the music (especially contemporary,) but much of the music is quotations from Psalms or Scripture and entirely Orthodox, as long as the end goal isn't an emotional response, either from choir or audience, but communication of the message from person to person.

(I also suggest looking them up on youtube, as they don't have any recordings on the website due to copyright issues.)
 

BrotherAidan

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choirfiend said:
I sang in this group

http://www.clubs.psu.edu/up/essenceofjoy/

during college. I agree--there's some bad theology in some of the music (especially contemporary,) but much of the music is quotations from Psalms or Scripture and entirely Orthodox, as long as the end goal isn't an emotional response, either from choir or audience, but communication of the message from person to person.

(I also suggest looking them up on youtube, as they don't have any recordings on the website due to copyright issues.)
Wow! It has been a long time since I have seen you post here. Welcome Back!
 

Gebre Menfes Kidus

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My father-in-law (an African American from the Mississippi Delta), is an Evangelical Protestant. He grew up in the Delta during the days of segregation. He has been totally blind since he was 2 months old. My father-in-law has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. Every Christmas I ask him for one present: for him to sing "O Holy Night" acapella to me. It has been a tradition between us for many years, and I  am always moved to tears.

Besides the beauty of his voice, what moves me so much is the fact that I know how deep and sincere his Christian faith is. He is the most erudite and intelligent man I know, and yet he can't read anything other than braile! If anyone has a right to complain it's him, and yet I've never seen him unhappy or in a bad mood. I've never heard him utter a single complaint in all the years I've known him. He's 73 years old and still goes to work the midnight shift at a local factory 6 or 7 days a week.

I say all this because it comes through as authentic when he sings Spirituals. And it's why I get a bit disgusted when I hear all these "Black Spirituals" being sung by certain people who clearly hold to ungodly teachings. It cheapens the music, and it does a disservice to the memory of the people who relied on the power of this music as they struggled through slavery and oppression. It may sound judgmental, but I don't care.

Selam 
 

Quinault

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My favorite vocalist of all time is Mahalia Jackson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPBVaRpNEgE

I once sang a rendition of Amazing Grace inspired by her at my childhood church.
 

Aristocles

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Quinault said:
My favorite vocalist of all time is Mahalia Jackson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPBVaRpNEgE

I once sang a rendition of Amazing Grace inspired by her at my childhood church.
We play this at least once a week here...it is particularly moving in the Cherokee dialect.
 

Gebre Menfes Kidus

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Quinault said:
My favorite vocalist of all time is Mahalia Jackson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPBVaRpNEgE

I once sang a rendition of Amazing Grace inspired by her at my childhood church.
There's no one like Mahalia! :)

Selam
 

Quinault

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My kids are all big Mahalia fans :)
 

Quinault

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Αριστοκλής said:
Quinault said:
My favorite vocalist of all time is Mahalia Jackson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPBVaRpNEgE

I once sang a rendition of Amazing Grace inspired by her at my childhood church.
We play this at least once a week here...it is particularly moving in the Cherokee dialect.
I would love to hear that.
 

Gebre Menfes Kidus

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Mahalia Jackson was in one of my favorite movies called Imitation of Life . She's singing a song called "Trouble of the World." Here it is:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eiI52WluF0

Selam
 

Gebre Menfes Kidus

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Here's one of my favorite Spirituals called "CANAAN LAND." Listen and watch this beautiful rendition from the movie Elmer Gantry starring Burt Lancaster.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=amznbi0lFaU

Selam
 

Aristocles

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Quinault said:
Αριστοκλής said:
Quinault said:
My favorite vocalist of all time is Mahalia Jackson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPBVaRpNEgE

I once sang a rendition of Amazing Grace inspired by her at my childhood church.
We play this at least once a week here...it is particularly moving in the Cherokee dialect.
I would love to hear that.
CD is titled Walela by the trio, Walela (Rita Coolidge, Laura Satterfield, Priscilla Coolidge). The link on their website to the song sadly does not work.
 

Jetavan

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Heorhij said:
...
Yes, I agree. Not that I know very many of them, but I have actually heard Paul Robeson (sp.?) singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" since my very early childhood, when I was perhaps 3 or 4. What a great, powerful music... 
"Paul Robeson, one of the most interesting figures of the 20th Century, has been the subject of dozens of books. Not so his remarkable life partner, Eslanda "Essie" Cardozo Goode Robeson, an unsung heroine of the Civil Rights struggle and one of the most important and fascinating black women of the last hundred years.
....
Now, her story is told by Barbara Ransby, a University of Illinois at Chicago historian, writer, and longtime political activist....Ransby joins guest-host Tracey Matisak in studio to discuss her latest work, Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson."
 

Jetavan

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LBK said:
Spirituals often just proclaim truths as people experience them with no attempt at explaining the mystery behind them.
Oooh yeah! Black spirituals got SOUL! That's why they're so good.
Fr. Hopko:

I've met United Church of Canada people who didn't know what the Nicene Creed was, and they were at a [World Council of Churches] Faith and Order Commission meeting representing their church! Seriously.

Then they say, "Why do you need it [i.e., the Nicene Creed], it's Greek philosophy, it's old-fashioned, no modern person can relate to it."

I remember in Russia once, I was there at a meeting exactly on the Nicene Creed, with Catholics and Protestants from all over the world -- it was an international meeting, sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission -- and the English-speaking Protestants were always on my case every day, because I could speak English, about, "Why do you do this, this is irrelevant, la la la."

And then we went to St. Sergius monastery outside Moscow, and there were all these people -- it was under Communism still -- the blind, the lame, all these people were out there in the middle of the night singing and singing, and these Protestants were out there looking at them and they're crying and saying, "I never saw such a piety," and then they said, "By the way, what are they singing?" and I said, "Well, they're just singing the outdated Nicene Creed that no one knows anything about." [laughs]

They were singing the Nicene Creed! And these people were just arguing that it's irrelevant, nobody cares about it, nobody knows what it is -- well, the one thing you had to do if you were Orthodox was to memorize the Nicene Creed and to know how to sing it. So that's the kind of thing that people find shocking.

I remember Desmond Tutu and his wife were at one service, and I heard her lean over to him and say, "I didn't know white folks could sing like this." So that's what the meetings can hopefully overcome and produce, some kind of new understanding of things, not caricatures.
 

katherine2001

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Gebre Menfes Kidus said:
Mahalia Jackson was in one of my favorite movies called Imitation of Life . She's singing a song called "Trouble of the World." Here it is:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eiI52WluF0

Selam
I remember the first time that I saw that movie on TV when my family was traveling.  I cried at the part of the movie where Mahalia Jackson's character has died and her daughter comes to her funeral after staying away from her for years because she was trying to pass as white and didn't want anyone to know that her mother was black.  My brother teased me to death for doing that.
 

Shanghaiski

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LBK said:
Spirituals often just proclaim truths as people experience them with no attempt at explaining the mystery behind them.
Oooh yeah! Black spirituals got SOUL! That's why they're so good.
We've got Soul Saturday coming up soon. I was thinking of breaking out the shades and donning the shiny gold cassock and funky Byzantine reader's hat.
 

LBK

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Shanghaiski said:
LBK said:
Spirituals often just proclaim truths as people experience them with no attempt at explaining the mystery behind them.
Oooh yeah! Black spirituals got SOUL! That's why they're so good.
We've got Soul Saturday coming up soon. I was thinking of breaking out the shades and donning the shiny gold cassock and funky Byzantine reader's hat.
Amen, brother, amen!  8) :laugh:
 
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