The Hidden Message of the Spiritual
A Lecture by Dr. Marvin Curtis
Sponsored by The Arts Commission of Christ Church
November 8th, 2015 at 4pm
The Arts Commission of Christ Church would like to invite the Westerly Community to a lecture given by Dr. Martin Curtis on the hidden message of the African American Spiritual.
A spiritual is a type of religious folksong that is most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South. The songs proliferated in the last few decades of the eighteenth century leading up to the abolishment of legalized slavery in the 1860s. The African American spiritual, also called the Negro Spiritual, constitutes one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong.
Dr. Curtis will focus his lecture on the hidden messages found in these spirituals. Well-known Negro Spirituals of the mid-1800s are much more complex than they first appear. Although the spiritual is usually based on a Christian religious theme, in many cases, the images projected from the music contain coded references that meant one thing to the slave owner but meant something entirely different to the enslaved African. In his lecture, Dr. Curtis will explore how biblical references and the images used in the spirituals were often based on biblical freedom fighters such as Moses, Daniel, Samson, David, and others. Dr. Curtis will also discuss how spiritual lyrics were often coded and were used to communicate escape routes and secret meetings within the Negro slave communities. In song, lyrics about the Exodus were a metaphor for freedom from slavery. Songs like “Steal Away (to Jesus)”, or “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” raised unexpectedly in a dusty field, or sung softly in the dark of night, signaled that the coast was clear and the time to escape had come. The River Jordan became the Ohio River, or the Mississippi, or another body of water that had to be crossed on the journey to freedom. “Wade in the Water” contained explicit instructions to fugitive slaves on how to avoid capture and the route to take to successfully make their way to freedom.
Dr. Curtis is highly respected composer, conductor and educator. Dr. Curtis is the first African-American composer commissioned to write a choral work for a Presidential Inauguration. His work, The City on the Hill was premiered at President Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration performed by The Philander Smith Collegiate Choir of Little Rock, Arkansas and The United States Marine Band. He is currently Dean of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend and Director of the Symphonic Choir of South Bend. He serves on the boards of The South Bend Symphony Orchestra, The Center for History, 100 Black Men of South Bend, Fischoff National Chamber Music, and South Bend Museum of Art. He was recently appointed to the Congressional Black Caucus 21st Leadership Institute.
All are invited to attend this compelling lecture and discussion about a topic that still resonates today.
The lecture is free and a reception will follow in the parish hall.