Tuesday, January 09, 2007

White Men Can't Clap

And neither can white women. At least that’s what I observed at the recent Choral Tribute to MLK at the Kennedy Center, which featured the unlikely combination of the Washington Choral Arts Society and local gospel choirs. I must admit that I came to hear the latter and I wasn’t disappointed.

I had never paid a lot of attention to the MLK celebrations, basically enjoying my day off in honor of his birthday. But this year my husband, in searching for some mutually acceptable "entertainment", found the MLK concert with a ticket price of $15 at the Kennedy Center, and we went with two other couples.

The one big difference between this and other audiences I have observed in the Concert Hall was the diversity of the group. There was for once a healthy balance between black and white, young and old, rich and poor.

The concert started with Norman Scribner conducting the WCAS, a mostly lily white group, in some rather serious music in foreign languages. Much of the choir had their noses buried in their books. Hm.... this wasn’t what I came to hear.

But then the fun began as the WCAS moved off the stage and the gospel choirs came on. They were robed in their colorful "uniforms" and they were ready to sing.

We heard a whole litany of songs labeled "traditional". We started to clap and sing along. These songs included Blessed Assurance, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Hold On, and The Solid Rock.

After the intermission we were treated to a choreographed performance by the Duke Ellington Gospel Choir. These young voices and their enthusiasm were infectious.

The second half also featured a combination of the WCAS and the gospel choirs, totally intermingled. There were a couple of songs that just took on a life of their own with improvisation and a rising level of energy.

This is where the ability of white people to clap and sway like black people was markedly different. I usually hate the idea of making racial generalizations, but this one was just so obvious. I am definitely in the group with the awkward whites and I would truly love to be able to sing and move in such a fluid and natural way.

I came away wondering where the whole civil rights movement would be today if MLK hadn’t been such a forceful leader in it. He left us with a rich legacy of freedom and ethics that remains deeply connected to the music that was so much a part of it. What an evening!


Blogger Richard said...

I really like the closing sentence for that picture "It is about people with rights."

I don't have much problem clapping, except that I am unable to synchronize with other people. I might start off in sync, but then I drift away. It is symptomatic of my inability to sync in with people in general.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- Yeah, I liked the text on that picture too. There were many (white) people in the audience who had the same clapping problem you mentioned. It was fun, nonetheless, to watch those who were so in tune with the beat.

10:15 PM  
Blogger RennyBA said...

Sounds like a wonderful concert - wish I was there but thanks for taking us with!

I've also noticed black people have more colorful and natural rhythm and it really shows when they dance too. Thats why I love Reggae music with its roots from Africa.

3:42 AM  
Blogger steve said...

Agree with you 1005 about Dr. King... i can scarcely think of him without getting the chills. have you ever heard his "I have a Dream " speech set to music? His voice is so lyrical anyway... I used to have it on tape.
You get to go to some pretty cool shows!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I used to work weekends at the Kennedy Center as an usher. It's amazing, the differences between performers, crowds and reactions. It seemed a different place every day.

I am both awed and ashamed that one man could make such a difference. Awed because he did. Ashamed because I'm not really doing anything.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I would have loved to have been there and taken in the "Gospeltality" of the whole tribute! I love that my choir always does one of these pieces in each concert. I do happen to have very good rhythm but not quite the fluidity that so many others.

7:19 AM  

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