Monday, September 20, 2004


Long day. First class at 9:10 am, last rehearsal ended at 9:30 pm, only breaks in there were 1/2 hour for lunch and 1/2 hour dinner.

And let's look at the ratio here, eh?
Time spent in class: 1 hour + 1.5 hours + 1.5 hours = 4 hours
Time spent in rehearsal: 1 hour + 1 hour + 1.5 hours + 3 hours = 6.5 hours
And this doesn't reflect the fact that the last 1.5 hour class (Conducting I) was spent entirely singing.

Now, that's the kind of ratio I can totally get behind...but it is kind of tiring on the voice!

The last rehearsal was Jubilation. Jubilation is the first-year subset of the Jubilee Singers. Those singers who have been in the group a year or more are called Jubilee, and the newbies like me are called Jubilation.

I am of two minds about Jubilation. On the one hand, Donald Dumpson, the conductor, is great. He is taking a lot of time to get in our faces about our assumptions about music and style, and about race, and about the world in general, and he is slowly trying to challenge us to be honest with ourselves. He's doing exercises to get us to connect to the emotional core of the music, and to build up our confidence and strip away our self-conciousness.

But I am the only graduate student. Most of the students are freshman, and those that aren't are sophomores...and I'm having some problems confronting the impatient, snobby side of me that both has trouble relating to people that young, and is condescending towards where they are. I may be full of it, and of course I have more to learn, but I don't have the problem with self-conciousness or fear of looking stupid that these teenagers do. For the most part it's fascinating, and useful...but it is really hard to shake the feeling that I've already done a lot of the growing that most of the class has not.

Also, they all sing too loud, and not with each other. That is not singular to Jubilation, though, although I think it is exacerbated by the youth and nervousness of that class. I am learning here (and not just in Jubilation) that the idea behind the core definition of a chorus, "people singing together," is not that easy to achieve. Especially with a bunch of people who are here because of their voice, and that's what they want to prove themselves with.

The other challenge is personalizing the text. I can internalize text like "I love Jesus," but when I get something like this, it's tough:

Nothing between my soul and the Savior,
Naught of this world's delusive dream:
I have renounced all sinful pleasure -
Jesus is mine! There's nothing between.

Nothing between my soul and the Savior,
So that his blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of his favor:
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.

Nothing between, e'en many hard trials,
Though the whole world against me convene;
Watching with prayer and much self-denial -
Triumph at last! with nothing between!

Now, I can own most of that text. But how can I get behind a line like "I have renounced all sinful pleasure"? One of my main problems with much of Christianity today is that I believe it propagates hate of natural states of the body and portrays physical love as sinful - I think that philosophy has totally messed up the self-image of generations. Nor do I think this world is an illusion to be patiently endured. And I can't figure out way to twist those kinds of words to my mind. Singing about Jesus is not too difficult, b/c if I think of the man, and what he was trying to achieve, I feel enormous sympathy and care for him and his vision. It's not too hard to smooth that respectful opinion into a reverence and a willingness for helping those who believe in his divinity celebrate that belief. But how can I get behind a doctrine of self-denial?

Since the core of Jubilation is cutting right to the honest soulful heart of things, I can't really skim over it. Mr. Dumpson won't accept that kind of laziness. I guess I'll just have to wrestle with it. I can act it as another person if I have to, but I'd prefer to be able to incorporate a believable performance with my real self.

This entry has presented a disproportionate view of my problems in Jubilation, I fear - but then, we never need to discuss or write about that which goes well. :) These thoughts represent maybe 10-20% of my rehearsal time with them, and there are some excellent, moving, deeply thoughtful and people-binding moments going on. My favorite today came at the end of rehearsal, when Jubilee Singers (the experienced ones) had come it to work with us on a few pieces. After we had sight-read some hymns and worked on them, Mr. Dumpson said, "Ok, Jubilee, sing Jesus Loves Me - Jubilation, you just listen." Jubilee was sitting mixed in with Jubilation, mostly at the back, most of them focused and laid-back, and they had not called attention to themselves. But when he said this, and started playing the piece, they all rose up from their seats and came to the center of the room, with this easy, assured, laid-back, dancing step that was a joy to see, and then burst out singing together in perfect harmony. They, they sang together. It was a joy to hear as well, and then towards the end we (Jubilation) all joined in as well. They were a unit, and it gave me faith (Hallelujah!) that if they turned out like that, then he can take a raggle-taggle, immature, self-concious group of teenagers and a crusty, snotty graduate student and turn out the same kind of harmony.

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