The Hidden Message of the Spiritual

Dr. Marvin Curtis

Dr. Marvin Curtis

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.

 

2015 Schedule

 

The Arts Commission of Christ Church

2015-2016 season

 

            We are happy to announce that our season will open on Sunday, November 8 at 4 pm with a lecture by Dr. Marvin Curtis, Dean of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend and Director of the Symphonic Choir of South Bend.  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.  What an honor to welcome him to Christ Church!

            Our season will continue on Sunday, April 17 when Dexter Kennedy will play an organ concert for us.  Winner of the Grand Prix d’Interprétation at the 24th Concours International d’Orgue de Chartres, Kennedy has established himself as one of the leading organists of his generation.  He has performed widely throughout the United States, and this past summer he made his first European tour as well as playing at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

            We have an unusual offering to round out our season, when the Alchemy Tuba Euphonium Quartet will play for us.  This will be a Friday night concert, on May 20 at 7:30 and promises to be a lot of fun!  Gary Buttery, who has played tuba for the Chorus of Westerly for many years, is part of the group, and we are very excited to welcome him and his colleagues for this unique concert.

 

            Arts Commission programs, which are presented free of charge to the parish and the greater community, are made possible with the support of endowments, including those in memory of The Very Rev. James E. Annand, Laura Kent Hynes, and Anne H. Utter, as well as contributions from interested individuals.  Anyone wishing to support this great form of outreach is welcome to make a donation at any time.

 

We hope you can join us for this wonderful season!

 

Pamela Young

Arts Commission convener