The Power of Spirituals

Eileen Guenther

Thursday, June 23, 10 AM
Meeting Room 335.B-C

Music is a mirror of life --Spirituals are a mirror of slave life. This workshop explores many aspects of this difficult time in our country’s history through the words of the slaves themselves: autobiographies, interviews form the 1930s (part of the Federal Writers’ Project) and, most of all, their songs.

We hear a broad spectrum of emotion reflected in their songs -- dehumanization and oppression, as well as the control of body, mind and soul that the slave experienced on a daily basis. We also hear hope – a desire for liberation and anticipation of escape (whether to heaven or to the North, but clearly someplace outside the domain of the slave owner or the many others who attempted to regulate every aspect of a slave's life.)

Why talk about the Spirituals? To my mind Spirituals are among the most powerful music ever created. These songs are personal and communal, contemplative and motivational, poignant and defiant -- music of sorrow and of aspiration that enriches the life of the singer as well as the listener. As author Arthur Jones says, “These songs were created out of deeply meaningful, archetypal human experiences, relevant not only to the specific circumstances of slavery but also to women and men struggling with issues of justice, freedom, and spiritual wholeness in all times and places.”

This interactive workshop intersperses the spoken and the sung word, not only providing a window on slave life, but also immersing us in music that speaks to us today.

Dr. Eileen Guenther, immediate past president of the AGO, is Professor of Church Music at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, where she teaches music and worship courses and directs Chapel Music. She regularly plays organ recitals and leads workshops on music and social justice, Spirituals, and clergy-music relations. Her book on clergy-musician relations, Rivals or a Team: Clergy-Musician Relationships in the 21st Century, was published in 2012 by MorningStar Music Publishers and received a great deal of media attention. Eileen’s second book, Slave Live and The Power of Spirituals: In Their Own Words will be published in 2016.