So. Last weekend was Gospel Fest, an annual festival of gospel music that SPU puts on with the help of the surrounding communities. In addition to SPU’s Gospel and Concert Choirs, the UW gospel choir came, along with Mt. Zion’s gospel choir—one of the oldest black churches in Seattle. Other choirs were present too, but their names escape me.
Now, SPU is mostly white kids. I think it’s something like 80+ percent white. We’re getting better, though, and that’s encouraging. Still, to be honest, I’ve never been in a room with that many black people though, immersed in their culture rather than the other way around. And you know what? It was fun! Gospel music is so rooted in a long history and the way it’s taught is so different than classical stuff. For the first time in a long time, I had fun singing again. I had missed that.
I’ve been rethinking my thoughts about gospel music and race as a result, mainly because there were some incredible white gospel singers present last weekend. I realized something that I knew all along: that it wasn’t, of course, the color of someone’s skin or anything genetic that made people better at gospel music. It’s participation, or immersion in the culture that created gospel music that does it.
My attitude going into last weekend was, let’s let black people have gospel music and not mess with that. We don’t have that history of suffering to draw from, our ancestors weren’t slaves: what business do we have singing that kind of thing? Let’s do our Ave Maria and let African-Americans have their Ride On, King Jesus.
My attitude coming out, however, is now: why do we have to limit gospel music to where it started? Music brings people together. By learning something about this culture and about these people, they were no longer “other” to me. We had something in common. What if gospel music wasn’t a way to bring out a history of oppression and remember the things that divide us, but a way to look forward to a future where we were reconciled, and in addition, actually help to bring it about? Gospel music does that like nothing else I’ve ever heard, precisely because it draws on that history of suffering yet hopes and anticipates a day when freedom will finally come.
Music has transformative power. I feel blessed to be a part of that transformation, even if only for a day.