Category Archives: MV Spirituals Choir

Return to East Chop Light

East Chop Lighthouse

The Spirituals Choir’s successful but all-too-short presentation season is winding down, but you still have three chances to hear us before time runs out.

On Saturday, August 4, we’ll be singing a few songs as part of Martha’s Vineyard Gospel Fest at Union Chapel. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and $10 for students with ID. The show starts at 7, but we’ll be on toward the end. Thanks to the organizers for inviting us to be part of this!

Next Sunday, August 5, at 6 p.m. we return to East Chop Light for our popular sunset gig. Bring friends, family, and a blanket or a chair to sit on! The lighthouse may be open, in which case you can climb to the top for stupendous views of Vineyard Sound. In case of foul weather, the presentation will not be held.

On Tuesday, August 7, at 4:30, we wrap up the season at one of our favorite places: the West Tisbury library. The program room there is a great place to sing and a great place to listen to music.

 

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Songs from the Fields @ Union Chapel

For the Spirituals Choir, summers are always busy, but the main event is always our annual presentation at Union Chapel. It’s happening tomorrow, July 21, at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. Tickets are $15, to benefit the U.S. Slave Song Project, of which the choir is a part. Children under 12 get in free. Tickets are available at the door and from choir members.

Once again, organist Lavert Stuart is our special guest.

Please join us!

If you can’t make it, or even if you can, our upcoming presentations include Thursday, July 26, at the Oak Bluffs library at 4:30 pm, and Tuesday, August 7, at the West Tisbury library, also at 4:30 p.m. We’re working on arranging a return to the East Chop Lighthouse, a perennially popular venue. Watch this space and the local papers for info on that.

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Singing in Chilmark

Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir gave a well-attended and well-received presentation at the Chilmark library yesterday, July 7. This photo was taken by audience member Everett Spees. Thank you!!

We have two full-length programs coming up this week. On Thursday, July 12, at 2 p.m. we’ll be at the Tabernacle, in the heart of the Campground in Oak Bluffs, as part of the “Catch the Spirit!” youth program. All are welcome! And on Saturday, July 14, at 3 p.m. we return to the Edgartown library, whose program room is one of our favorite places — great acoustics!

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Dedication

The Spirituals Choir’s presentation schedule generally doesn’t begin till mid-June. Through May, we’re learning the songs we haven’t sung before, getting reacquainted with familiar ones, and coalescing as an ensemble. Our summer members often don’t return till the end of the month.

But when we were invited to sing at the unveiling of the plaque marking the 28th stop on the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail, no way could we turn it down.

Stained-glass windows in the Grace church sanctuary honor the Rev. Absalom Jones (left) and the Rt. Rev. John Burgess.

The 28th stop on the trail is at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. Grace Episcopal has demonstrated its commitment to local African-American history in multiple ways. The plaque that has been mounted near the Woodlawn Avenue entrance to the parish hall commemorates the Rev. Absalom Jones (1746–1818), first African American priest ordained in the Episcopal Church; the Rt. Rev. John Melville Burgess (1909–2003), first African-American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church; and liturgical artist Allan Rohan Crite (1910–2007), whose mural was installed in Grace’s children’s chapel in the 1950s.

The parish hall was packed with attentive listeners as speakers introduced each of the honorees and the church’s commitment to local African-American history and the struggle for racial justice. Elaine Weintraub, co-founder with Carrie Tankard of the M.V. African-American Heritage Trail, spoke of how the trail began with a promise she made to a young student who asked where the black people were in Vineyard history. Elaine said she didn’t know but she would find out. And she did.

In the mid-1990s it seemed astonishing when the trail dedicated its fourth or fifth plaque. But the research has continued, our knowledge of the Vineyard’s African-American history has broadened and deepened, and now the trail has 28 stations on it. Now in its second edition, Elaine’s book Lighting the Trail: The African-American Heritage of Martha’s Vineyard, written with Carrie Tankard and with photographs by Mark Alan Lovewell, covers the first 26 stops on the trail.

Leigh Ann Yuen read from the powerful, inspiring Beatitudes from Slavery to Civil Rights, by Carole Boston Weatherford — published for children, but this adult was deeply moved by it. Singing the slave songs one can’t help but acknowledge the importance of faith and religious imagery to the enslaved and those escaping slavery. This little book makes it real.

After the program, everyone trooped outside to watch the unveiling of the plaque, presided over by Julia Burgess, Bishop Burgess’s daughter, a Vineyard resident. Then everyone trooped back in to hear the Spirituals Choir sing “Rise, Shine, for the Light Is a-Coming,” which celebrates the approach of the Union army during the Civil War; and “Done Made My Vow to the Lord,” in which those preparing to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad vowed that they never would turn back but would press on to “see what the end’s gonna be.”

Allan Rohan Crite’s mural in the children’s chapel at Grace church. The banner at the top reads O ye seas and floods, O ye whales and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord, praise him and magnify him forever.” Adapted from the “Benedicite omnia opera.”

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Come Sing with Us!

Rehearsals are under way for the Spirituals Choir’s 14th (I think) season. If you’ve ever attended one of our presentations and thought this is something you’d like to be part of — now’s the time. Lower voices — altos, tenors, and basses — are especially welcome, but if you’re a soprano, don’t let that stop you. We rehearse at 6 p.m. every Wednesday afternoon in the Windemere recreation room. It’s most easily reached from the parking area behind Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. If you want directions, leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

This year’s repertoire includes some regulars, like “Where Will I Be When the First Trumpet Sounds?,” “In Bright Mansions Above,” “Rise, Shine, for the Light Is a-Comin’,” “Done Made My Vow to the Lord,” and “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?”  Others, like “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” are familiar enough, and some are new to most of us, like “It’s Me,” “I’ve Been Toiling at the Hill,” and “A Wheel in a Wheel.”

Singing these songs, and learning more about the enslaved people who created them and kept them alive, is a powerful and transformative experience. Several of these songs are helping me get through the very troubled times we’re in now. People whose situations were far worse and more hopeless sang to make their lives bearable and to imagine a better future. Their songs renew my spirit and give me hope. Come join us!

Flyer from our 2017 presentation at the West Tisbury library

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New Season Starting!

Jim Thomas is back on the Vineyard! Rehearsals for the Spirituals Choir’s 2018 season will start on Wednesday, April 25, at the usual time — 6 p.m. — and at the usual place: the rec room at Windemere. New members are welcome! Leave a comment here if you need directions.

Jim wants to start the rehearsal on time. Some of us haven’t seen each other since last August, so feel free to show up a little early to have time to catch up with your fellow singers.

The Spirituals Choir’s season runs through late August. We sing at libraries, schools, houses of worship, and even outdoors.  If you or your organization would like to host a presentation, contact Jim Thomas at 703-407-1207. Most of our performances are on Martha’s Vineyard, but we have traveled off-island — for instance, to the Royall House & Slave Quarters in West Medford and the Old North Church in Boston. If logistics can be arranged, we’re up for it!

 

Jim Thomas and some of the choir performing at the Chilmark library, June 21, 2017

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Last Chance to Hear Us in 2017

The Spirituals Choir closes out its 2017 season with a presentation this Saturday, August 5, at the Oak Bluffs library as part of its second annual African American Literature and Culture Festival. The festival opens on Friday evening, August 4, at 6 p.m. with a reception for a retrospective showing of paintings by Olive “Cutie” Bowles. Saturday brings a full schedule of events, ending with our performance from 3 to 4 p.m.

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