Category Archives: Jim Thomas

A Surprise Guest in Edgartown

Our presentation at the Edgartown library this past Saturday went very well. Both the library and its sunny, spacious program room were new when we sang there last year. The acoustics were as wonderful as we remembered, and so was the hospitality. After the presentation choir and audience chatted over lemonade and coffee, strawberries, chocolate cake, and cookies.

At some point I noticed a mature gentleman moving about the room taking pictures.The zoom-equipped camera around his neck identified him as a photographer — not for him the smartphones or point-and-shoots of most of us. During the Q&A, he identified himself as Daniel Williams. For 30 years he has been documenting Emancipation celebrations, not only in the United States but abroad as well. A book is in the works.

Everyone knows about the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, which freed the slaves in the rebelling Southern states — but not those in slaveholding states that had never left the Union, and not those in the parts of the Confederacy that were by then under Union control.

Emancipation came gradually: the Wikipedia article on the subject notes that “Slaves in the District of Columbia were freed on April 16, 1862,” and on June 19 Congress passed legislation abolishing slavery in current and future U.S. territories. For various reasons, news of the Emancipation Proclamation did not reach Texas until mid-June of 1865, an occasion that is now widely celebrated as Juneteenth. Legal slavery did not officially end in the U.S. until the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865.

So there are several emancipation milestones to celebrate. Two songs in the Spirituals Choir’s 2017 celebrate Emancipation: “Rise! Shine! For the Light Is a-Coming” and “Great Day.”

It was a thrill to meet Mr. Williams and learn of his work, and needless to say, we look forward to hearing more.

Accompanist Phil Dietterich on the left, director Jim Thomas in blue

Some of the choir

 

 

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Saturday @ Edgartown Library

Here’s the flyer: this Saturday, June 24, 3 p.m. at the Edgartown library. We sang there a year ago when the program room was brand-new — the acoustics are wonderful. Come hear us, and bring your friends. This is a program for all ages.

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Debut at the Anchors

Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir gave our first presentation of the 2017 season yesterday at the Anchors, the Edgartown senior center. Pardon me for thinking it might have been our most powerful debut ever! We have a great repertoire this year, and though we only did a portion of it at this particular event, what we did was strong.

There are no photos. My bad. As usual I was running late, and I forgot to grab my camera. The parking gods smiled on me, though: I found a parking space on Water Street and got to the Anchors on time.

This coming Friday morning we’ll be presenting for seventh and eighth graders at the Tisbury School. Students of all ages almost always respond strongly to our program, but unfortunately our performance season is getting under way just as the school year ends. We’re excited to be able to sing for these young people this year. (True, the non-morning people among us are grumbling a bit at the start time: 8:30 a.m.) I promise to remember my camera this time.

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Our 2017 Season Is About to Begin!

Spring is here, director Jim Thomas has returned from Virginia, and our first rehearsal is set for Wednesday, April 26, at the usual time (6 to 7 p.m.) and in the usual place: the recreation room at Windenere.

Please encourage your singing friends to join us! All are welcome, but lower voices are especially needed to balance our sound.

Planning for our spring and summer 2017 performance schedule is now under way. If you have an idea for a venue where the Spirituals Choir hasn’t sung before, or hasn’t appeared in recent years, let me or Jim know.

Looking forward to seeing you on April 26!

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From Edgartown to Chilmark

July is off to a great start!

Last Saturday afternoon, the Spirituals Choir gave a presentation in the brand-new program room of the brand-new Edgartown library. Fourth of July weekend is overload time on Martha’s Vineyard — too many cars, too many people, too many things to do — so we weren’t sure what kind of audience we would get. We needn’t have worried!

For one woman, it was serendipity: her grandkids really wanted to go to the library, and when they got there she saw our banner hanging outside the front door. She came and was thrilled to learn the background to some of the songs she’d known all her life.

Setting up the keyboard

Setting up the keyboard

Yesterday afternoon we headed up-island for our third annual presentation at the Chilmark library. Traffic was worse and parking harder than it had been in Edgartown on Fourth of July weekend, thanks to an event at the Community Center next door. Since there was no room in the library’s small parking lot, Reverend Phil’s keyboard had to be walked up the road from (I think) the parking lot at the bank. It arrived in the nick of time.

Once again the presentation went well. Not only was the audience attentive and appreciative, they asked good questions at the end.

At both libraries we sang the songs we presented at the Anchors in mid-June. This is about half of our 2016 repertoire. We’ll be doing the whole thing at Union Chapel on Saturday, July 16, 7:30 p.m. More about that later.

When Jim mentions a song that isn’t in the current repertoire, like “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” often the choir will start singing in the background. Sometimes the audience joins in.

Director Jim Thomas gets ready to start the program.

Director Jim Thomas gets ready to start the program.

 

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Sopranos, altos, and a couple of tenors at the Chilmark library. The lower voices didn’t fit in the frame!

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Jim’s Back!

Spirituals Choir leader Jim Thomas, that is — and that means that rehearsals for the choir’s 2015 season will be starting soon.

Wednesday, April 15,

from 6 to 7 p.m.

in the rec room at Windemere.

New members are welcome, and now is the best time to join up. Email Jim to let him know of your interest, or drop me a line by commenting on this blog post and I’ll pass the word along.

If your organization is interested in hosting a performance, let us know. Dates will be posted as they are confirmed.

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The choir’s sopranos and altos, West Tisbury library, June 2014.

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Our Rousing Weekend

The Spirituals Choir at Union Chapel. Artist: Barney Zeitz.

The Spirituals Choir at Union Chapel. Artist: Barney Zeitz.

The Spirituals Choir’s annual performance at Union Chapel was a rousing success. The chapel’s acoustics are wonderful. Our songs rose to the rafters, not least on our finale, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which literally brought the audience to its feet.

Sculptor Barney Zeitz sketched us while we sang. (Barney does astonishing work in glass and metal. Check out his website for details and photos.)

Organist Lavert Stuart joined us from Cleveland, playing both a prelude and an intermezzo on Union Chapel’s impressive organ. Chris Seidel accompanied us on snare drum for the “Battle Hymn.”

2014 UU coverBoth Lavert and Chris joined us again on Sunday morning, when Jim Thomas and the choir were featured at the Unitarian Universalist Society‘s weekly service. The theme was “Cries for Freedom and Social Justice.” Frederick Douglass’s image graced the cover of the order of service.

Words from Douglass’s autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, prefaced the order itself:

“The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it. I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star. It smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind and moved in every storm.”

In one of the readings Douglass told of how he learned the alphabet and started learning to read as a young boy, at a time when it was illegal in most southern states to teach slaves to read and write. His mistress stopped the lessons when ordered to do so by her husband. Teach a slave to read and write, so the masters’ thinking went, and he or she becomes useless as a slave.

Douglass recounts how his mistress, at first gentle and compassionate, hardened herself to the demands of her station and became as cruel to the slaves as any other slaveholder.

The slaveowners were right: literacy was dangerous to the old order. Douglass became a voracious reader, and what he read inspired him to seek freedom. After escaping to the North, he wrote his Narrative of the Life, which demonstrated to many pre–Civil War white people both the inhumanity of slavery and the humanity of the African slaves. Douglass went on to become an eminent abolitionist orator.

His words proved an ideal setting for the spirituals, and for the concluding “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which once again brought everyone to their feet.

The next adventure for the U.S. Slave Song Project Spirituals Choir is a trip to Boston on Sunday, August 3. We’ll be singing at Old North Church in the morning, and at the Royall House and Slave Quarters museum in Medford in the afternoon.

Before that, however, we’ll be making our annual appearance at the East Chop Light for free a sunset performance on Sunday, July 27. Starting time TBA, but should be after 5:30 p.m. This is part of the Della Hardman Day celebration in Oak Bluffs, honoring the late Della Hardman, artist and educator. “Savor the moment” was her watchword, and the theme of the day. The view from the lighthouse is always beautiful, but when sun and clouds cooperate it’s spectacular.

We’ve also been invited to sing at a tribute to Congressman John Lewis, a noted veteran of the civil rights movement, at Union Chapel on August 12, More about that later.

 

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