Some things just stay with you, don’t they?

If you’ve read my December post  in which I described my experience of last October’s “Singing on the Edge” weekend at Esalen, you won’t be surprised to hear that the experiences I had there won’t be leaving me any time soon.

If anything, the lessons I learned about music, and about life, have become stronger as the weeks roll by and I’ve had time to reflect.

Spirituals with Melanie DeMore.

The one workshop that I keep returning to is the one led by Melanie DeMore. Melanie led us into the deepest depths of African American song and the music that emerged from the grief of the enslaved people. We experienced the words and music of the slave ships and of congregational mourning when singing “Lord How Come Me Here“. Together we sang of the children who had been taken away and of the people whose suffering was so terrible they wished they’d never been born. We sang and wept of pain and the worst agonies the human soul can experience.

It was profoundly moving and we were soon singing through a blur of tears. She guided us out of the depths via “Let the light of the lighthouse shine on me” and “This little light of mine”. I’ve sung the latter a million times before but I had never really heard it until Melanie led us in song.

As powerful as song is, it can’t come close to helping us truly understand what people went through in the days of slavery; we never will. Just as we can’t fully appreciate the suffering many people still endure today.

But I wonder if we can use music as a gateway, as the bridge that will help us narrow the divide?

After all, our experiences and our history may be worlds apart at times but there are things that connect us all. We’ve all felt unheard, we’ve all felt disrespected, walked over, ignored. There’s an undeniable universality to the human experience and music may well be the key to tapping into it.

We may not share a common history but, with hope and hard work, we might share a future story. One in which we’re all heard, all respected. One in which we are all valued equally.

We sing for joy, yes. Of course we do. And sometimes joy is the perfect goal for a single moment. Sometimes joy is enough to soothe our souls and bring profound change. But we all have moments when we crave something more, and when we’re strong enough to use music for something deeper. There are moments when we have to. For me, this was one of those moments. I hope it stays with me forever. I think it will.

Teaching this was Melanie’s gift to us … and one I’d love to share with you!!

We’re so excited to announce that we’ll be focusing on freedom songs all this fall. Think: a mix of spirituals, gospel, and contemporary songs about freedom and how we can build bridges to connect with those around us, however different their experiences are from ours.

If you believe in the transformative power of music — and even if you don’t! — we’d love for you to join us at Sing Portland!