Monday, June 8, 2009

soul music in madison?

it was an amazing sight, to see a choir of almost all white people swaying and clapping and shouting -- and singing. their athletic director, angela clemmons, professional back up singer and soul music enthusiast, pumped her arms and used her entire energy to keep them moving. they had completed a four week workshop. i was impressed. it was funny to see the four or five men standing stolidly in the center, clapping hands but otherwise incapable of moving their bodies. but around them a sea of pastel-attired women swirled and swayed side to side.

i never would have thought to see soul music sung in madison. but even the mormons now are borrowing some of the verve of black church music, a total departure from the traditional mormon hymn staidness.

when angela began the show with a solo, i felt something was up when the right side of the chapel erupted in clapping and shouting whenever she reached a climax. obviously they had learned a different sociality from the hands in the lap style of white churches. it turned out they were the choir. they had been taught how to perform. and part of performance is knowing how to spectate, how to watch and react. it was inspiring from a cultural and political perspective. sure, class is now the great line dividing communities in this country, now that race is becoming less aligned with class. it is little comfort that a few blacks have moved into the upper and middle classes. but it is still something, something good.

and yes, it was inspiring spiritually too. clemmons invited an experienced soloist from her father's church in norwalk to sing one number, and it was intense. she cried after finishing.

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