Lift Ev’ry Voice…and SING!
Written by Stephanie Renee on November 15, 2015
I admit it. I am prone to overindulgence when it comes to catching concerts in high season. And lately, here in Philly, it’s been difficult to determine precisely when “high season” is in effect. The sheer number and quality of outdoor shows that take place during the warmer months is impressive. But in any given year, depending on who is helming the decision-making at premium venues, the lineups can be downright stellar as well.
Last weekend was one such moment. On Sunday I was delighted to take in not one, but TWO high-quality performances, from artists whose work I deeply revere. In the afternoon, it was a sold-out matinee of Hannibal Lokumbe’s latest composition, a “spiritorio” collaboration between the Philadelphia Orchestra and combined choirs from acclaimed HBCU music programs from Lincoln, Morgan and Delaware State. To call it glorious is rudely inadequate. All those instruments. All those voices, exclaiming stories of God and Man in union. It was existential, even if the Black church aesthetic isn’t your personal frame of reference.
Later that evening, it was preeminent contemporary jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves with a world-class quartet of musical accompanists. If a speed round style of live show is what you prefer, this concert wasn’t for you. She may not have sung even 10 songs total between her two sets. But the selections she did indulge had all of the stretch and depth of those who understand that improvisation and interpretation are the hallmarks of a quality jazz presentation. Dianne told stories. Laughed. And sang her face off, to the crowd’s delight.
With heart and ears full, my mind harkened back to last week’s Marian Anderson Award ceremony and the incredible speech delivered by honoree Wynton Marsalis. The big takeaway–echoed by many WURD listeners who caught our audio coverage in the following days–was a thoughtful quotable:
“Excellence, in itself, is a form of protest.”
Let that sink in for a sec, folks. Let it wash over you, as it did everyone who was in the Verizon Hall audience that evening. In these incredibly troubling times, when merely going about your daily activities could lead to your sudden death, it is an act of defiance and activism to project excellence in all that you do. It belies stereotypes like “violent criminal,” “angry Black woman,” “welfare queen,” and tons of other shameless degradations to our humanity. Excellence, as a form of protest. What a wondrous concept!
And for creatives like me, who are compelled to pour our hearts into songs, visual art, dance, poems and other modes of expression, it is even more necessary today to not allow other demands to distract us from the work. These gifts and talents we exercise have the literal power to save the world and many of the people in it. What joy there is in knowing your purpose and standing fully present in that space, even in the midst of hate and war! So did Dianne Reeves. So did Hannibal Lokumbe, and every single soul gathered in that concert hall to present his composition.
We may not have all of the answers needed to make this world more humane. But those of us who embrace our creative gifts with enthusiasm, who understand fully that excellence is indeed a form of protest, have a responsibility to open our mouths and sing our stories to the best of our ability. Our silence would be disrespect. Our songs must ring out. Resonate. Heal.
Let every voice be lifted, today and always, in the key of truth.