This place is where I write some thoughts that fill me on significant events in my life, so it’s more of a stream of consciousness than anything else.
HIC SUNT LEONES
The Music and Arts Global experience is so complex as a concept and content that it requires multiple points of analysis.
For Italians, Edwin Hawkins is usually known as the composer of the most famous Gospel song in the peninsula: “Oh, Happy Day.” Yes, the one from the ’80s Asti Cinzano advertisement… In the United States, he and his family are a true legend, as is his brother Walter or Tramaine, the soloist of “Oh, Happy Day,” and Walter’s wife. In addition to being an innovator in terms of choral writing, Hawkins had incredible musicians as sidemans, such as producer and multi-instrumentalist Joel Smith. Edwin is also the founder of the Music and Arts Seminar, a traveling workshop that, over the years, has introduced Gospel and its music, realising several recordings.
Lawrence is the next heir of a wonderful tradition that goes back much further, passes through his roots, and follows the tree’s growth towards the fruits of Hawkins, the Clark Sisters, Andrae Crouch, Richard Smallwood, and many others. His signature is depth, musical elegance that has made him a distinguishable brand among Gospel authors and producers. Even through the passing of the torch from Hawkins himself, Lawrence brings Music and Arts to London and adds the word Global to it, intending to extend the original thought to the entire world.
Thanks to the help and support of Volney Morgan, a London Pastor and director. Directors, soloists, musicians, and extremely talented choristers arrived in England, all united in bringing this culture to the Old Continent, probably in the best, most intelligent, and profound way. Speaking as an Italian, we often witness stunning and choreographed Christmas show business expressions, but they sometimes leave doubt about the authenticity and depth of both the vocation and the originating religious message. In fact, today the amount of bibliography, direct testimonials on YouTube, recordings, and direct knowledge of the culture help us better understand the grandeur of the African-American Gospel movement in all its expressions. As in other fields, ignorance is no longer acceptable. Here’s what immediately strikes the Italian (eurosceptic) that is often in me about Music and Arts Global: it’s not done to make as much money as possible or to gain visibility, to hit the location or sensationalistic surface, but to immerse everyone in this experience and make everyone, but just everyone, comfortable… feeling good and accepted.
Where words are attentive, the Spirit is as high as the Message.
If there are Words, they have Content, not just calligraphy.
If there is a sign, it is of sharing. You might say that this is what you find in any choral event or workshop in Italy, too. Well, after having done or held quite a few of them, as a pianist, director, singer, or just a curious person… I can say that we are on a satellite that revolves around its own orbit and does not touch the neighboring planet due to the force of gravity. This force of gravity has been canceled out by Lawrence’s magnetism, which attracted all interested satellites to Music and Arts Global. Therefore, the focus is not on the show, but on the connection through the Word and the common vibration.
It may seem small, but the difference has been colossal.
So, three days, starting from Thursday 27th April, characterized by the staging of numerous Songs, particularly from Lawrence, Hawkins, LaValley and Starks The intention was to fully understand a reality that is very underestimated and superficially known in our parts. On stage were six crazy singers capable of honoring Lawrence’s sophisticated requirements: Aarion Pace Rhodes, daughter of LaShun Pace, Lena Sungbyrd Starks, Malonie Daniels, Blanche McAllister and Israel McAllister. The directors who took turns were all magnificent and beyond expectations: from Jeffrey LaValley (author of Revelation 19:1), DeWayne Woods a Grier Jonanthan, Lawrence himself, and Karen Gibson. Soloists? All 6 choristers also performed in this capacity, then there were Anthony Brown, Rodney Posey, Ted Winn, Vincent Bohannan, and many others! All Stars Band: Cedric Thompson (Grammy Award Winner), Derrick Hall (15-years MD of Edwin Hawkins),Calvin Rodgers, Maurice Fitzgerald, Joey Woolfalk… A dream for any musician.
Choirs and singers from the USA in addition to the already mentioned artists, intentionally present for the event. Choirs from Ireland, Latvia, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and … Italy?
Directly invited by Lawrence and selected for the Friday night showcase! In fact, unwitting ambassadors, willing or not, of the Peninsula. For various reasons, we were only 5:
4 voices (SMAT) plus me, representing the 20-year ensemble.
What were the highlights of the meeting?
- On a musicological level, we witnessed a masterful lesson from Dr. Alisha Jones , entitled “Lining the Hymn,” a teacher at Cambridge University, as well as an opera singer (with us 5, she expressed herself in Italian).
- Dr Watts improvised on stage by those who have it in their DNA for generations…
- The showcase of guest choirs.
- The study of the vocal lines of the bridge of Oh, Happy Day, in the original version of Edwin Hawkins, not as it is normally done (not Db Db Db I Ab )
- The opening of the closing event of the meeting by the Kent University Gospel Choir
As Artistic Director of The NuVoices Project, the 20-year history of this ensemble, the thought on what to propose to such an attentive, prepared, and in fact very welcoming audience, was quickly resolved: as a gift to the lions of African American Gospel, it makes sense to proudly bring a portion of our italian tradition.
In August 2003, I arranged “Signore delle cime” by Bepi de Marzi, a song that the entire North of Italy is very attached to. That time I tried to write something that would inspire the peaks of the mountains and the feelings that the lyrics and melody suggested to me. Twenty years later (and after 2 congratulations emails from the author himself for the arrangement), it remains a song that represents us and that makes sense to share beyond the Alps, also thanks to the study on vocal and modern music conducted during this period. Having a portion of the entire ensemble, but covered at the section level (1 Soprano, 1 Mezzosoprano, 1 Contralto, and 1 Tenor), we dared to perform this song with only piano and voices, amidst wonderful choral groups of at least 20 people accompanied by either an entire band or bases, alternating before and after us.
You can’t imagine our emotion and incredulity.
The performance received applause during the execution, including the standing ovation you find at the end of the video.
We also performed the only a cappella song of the evening: “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” as our tribute to the African American tradition.
The Living Water, a Spanish group, paid tribute to Lawrence with one of his songs translated into Spanish. I was particularly impressed with the group directed by Volney Morgan. The band was excellent and everyone was essential!
But can we talk about the pure emotion of meeting, listening to, and being led by Jeffrey LaValley in person?!?! “Revelation 19:1” is definitely one of the songs that Italian gospel choirs know best, dating back to the glorious days of Bob Singleton. The light still shining in LaValley’s eyes can guide all of us through dark tunnels for a long time.
“A pillar is such because it doesn’t move” – J. LaValley quote.
The final evening was a dream. By staying alongside the musicians throughout the workshop, for the first time as a European bass/baritone, I was able to experience singing alongside another singer I adore: Leonardo Bucciol, whom I’ve known for 25 years and have been singing with for 25 years. I have learned a lot from him, but the experience of living, singing, dancing, and getting emotional together in a workshop of this magnitude… I have never experienced anything like it before. Being in the choir and singing “Oh, Happy Day,” while listening to soloists Bazil Meade and Kristīne Prauliņa, the director of the Riga Gospel Choir, was quite emotional.
And how about Donald Lawrence?!?!?
He is a kind, magnetic, profound, prepared, acute, never over the top, attentive, humble, sensitive, and human person.
The ethical/spiritual, musical, and cultural content reached levels that I have sincerely never seen or perceived before.
Not to mention spending these days with my wife Giuliana, Antonella, Leo, and Lucia, was a particularly fun experience. It was like waiting for a dream to come true after 5 years.
I absorbed more vibrations in this half-week flow than in previous decades of practice and musical life.
Hic sunt leones.
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