Monthly Archives: August 2013

In West Tisbury

A belated report . . .

On August 18, the Spirituals Choir sang at West Tisbury’s First Congregational Church. The theme of the service, led by the Rev. Cathlin Baker, was “water,” that essential source of physical and spiritual sustenance. Our contributions included “Wade in the Water” — which director Jim Thomas explained is not about baptism, although that’s when many churches sing it. With the congregation we sang “Down by the Riverside,” “I’ve Got Peace like a River,” and “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Water figures prominently in all of them.

Wearing a rainbow of colors, the Spirituals Choir sings in West Tisbury. That's Jim on the left. In bright yellow toward the left end of the choir is soloist Elizabeth Lyra Ross.

Wearing a rainbow of colors, the Spirituals Choir sings in West Tisbury. That’s Jim on the left. In bright yellow toward the left end of the choir is soloist Elizabeth Lyra Ross. Photo by Lynn Christoffers.

We were joined for this performance by soloist Elizabeth Lyra Ross. Wow! Backing her up on “Ride On, King Jesus” was a thrill, and her “Steal Away to Jesus” filled the church with passionate sound. She had her CDs for sale after the service, and quite a few of us jumped at the opportunity to bring her voice home with us.

The end of the choir’s 2013 season is fast approaching. We’ll be singing at the potluck memorial celebration for our beloved colleague Bob Lee on Saturday, September 7, 1 p.m. at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury. And the following afternoon we’ll be at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, participating in a benefit for Windemere nursing home. Hope to see some of you there.

2013 WT church program


Leave a comment

Filed under MV Spirituals Choir

Porch Concert

This year the Spirituals Choir has sung in churches and senior centers, in theaters, at Union Chapel, and at East Chop Light. Late Thursday afternoon we sang at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. The hotel features a wrap-around porch with stupendous views of Edgartown harbor. We were part of the hotel’s annual Porch Concert series, which this year is co-sponsored by MVY Radio. MVY, formerly WMVY @ 92.7 FM, is now a listener-supported online station with deep roots on Martha’s Vineyard.

As always, founder-director Jim Thomas welcomed questions from the audience in between the songs. Thanks to Jim’s knowledge and ongoing research, we learn more at each performance about the anonymous slaves who made these spirituals and the world they lived in. The songs open a window into that world.

Jim Thomas and some of the choir

Jim Thomas and some of the choir

partial choir

Phil Dietterich on keyboards and singer Janet Holladay

Phil Dietterich on keyboards and singer Janet Holladay

The choir’s summer schedule is beginning to wind down, but Sunday, August 18, will be a busy day. At 10 a.m. we’re singing as part of the regular service at the West Tisbury Congregational Church. We’re thrilled to be joined by guest soloist Elizabeth Ross.

Then at 6 p.m. we’ll help open the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance (TBDA) fundraising dinner at the Grange Hall, also in West Tisbury (and barely a stone’s throw from the church).

Leave a comment

Filed under Jim Thomas, MV Spirituals Choir, spirituals

Fare You Well

Bob Lee had been in frail health, but yesterday’s news of his passing came as a shock. He sang and drummed with the Spirituals Choir when we performed our annual lunchtime concert at the Oak Bluffs senior center last Thursday. He was at rehearsal the night before. He’s been at virtually all our rehearsals and (many!) performances this year, and he’s been part of the choir since it began nine years ago.

Bob Lee

Bob Lee

Many of the slave songs deal with journeys. In “Fare You Well” slaves who’ve been sold away take leave of family and friends. Separation could happen at any time. The slaves sang the hope of reunion, in the next world if not in this one:

You may bury me in the East
You may bury me in the West
But I’ll hear the trumpet sound
in that morning

For slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad, the journey ahead was long, the partings hard, but the destination — freedom — made it all worth while.

Done made my vow to the Lord
and I never till turn back
I will go, I shall go
to see what the end will be

We’re singing for you, Bob, and missing you so much. Hear the angels singing?


Filed under MV Spirituals Choir, spirituals

Our July

July was a busy month for Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir! Undaunted by relentless heat and humidity, the choir continued to rehearse every Wednesday. The hard work culminated in three successful performances.

July 2013 poster smOn Saturday, July 20, we sang our annual full-length concert at Union Chapel to a very appreciative audience with many new faces in it. We were joined by guest organist Lavert Stuart.

The very next morning, we were featured at the Unitarian Universalist Society’s Sunday service. The theme was “From Africa to the Underground Railroad,” and again Lavert Stuart was at the organ.

Maybe because it built on the previous evening, maybe because so many of us had the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial on our minds, maybe because the congregation and the choir raised our voices together in several songs — whatever the reasons, this was one powerful event.

To conclude the service, we all rose together to sing “America the Beautiful.” Before we finished the first verse, I was so choked up I could barely sing. Turns out the same thing was happening to a lot of other people. At the end many eyes were shining with tears and hope.

On Sunday, July 28, Della Hardman Day, we returned to East Chop Lighthouse to help celebrate the life and creative powers of the late Della Hardman. The sun was in hiding so we saw no sunset, but the rain held off and we sang well.

Our summer season is beginning to wind down, but it’s not over yet. On August 8, we’ll be singing at the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging, to thank the town’s seniors for letting us rehearse in their space. Then on August 18, we’ll be part of the service at West Tisbury’s First Congregational Church. It’s our first time there, and we’ll be joined by guest soloist Elizabeth Ross.

In early September the choir will participate in a fundraiser for Windemere at the Tabernacle.


2013 UU program

Program for the July 21, 2013, UU service.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized