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Triage Concert-West Wells

  • 2836 West Wells Street Milwaukee, WI, 53208 United States (map)

Program A: The Burning House

Denial (Spiritual): Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

This spiritual is an intense lament that speaks of deep personal abandonment. The question is, why!? What circumstances caused this person to feel motherless? Is it a child or adult reflecting on the death of a parent? Is it a person who made a mistake in life and feels rejected by their parent? Is it a person who is physically and emotionally lost or separated from what is familiar and comfortable? One of the lines of text says, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child a long ways from home.” Africa means Motherland. The place that gave birth to all humanity. In a deeper historical context, perhaps for an enslaved person of African decent, this spiritual is a cry from a soul that has been expelled from earth. Such an intense feeling for Black Americans in today's world, most likely would be accompanied by feelings of denial. In other words, this is an experience for my ancestors. Not me.

Acceptance (Soul): I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

Written by pianist Dr. Billy Taylor for his daughter, this piece of music has been covered by many people over the years. The first singer to get ahold of it and make it popular was Nina Simone. As a central musical figure of the civil rights era and the 60’s and 70’s protest movements, Nina’s use of this song held great significance. In all her music Nina was an expert at acknowledging the unvarnished reality of what was happening to people. She did exactly that with this song while also projecting a hopeful possibility that all people could be reconciled to one another and live peaceably together. The text of the second verse illustrates that duality. “I wish I could share all the love that's in my heart. Remove all the doubts that keep us apart.” The text makes it clear, the challenge in sharing love, means accepting its existence.

 

Faith (Gospel): No Weapon

Fred Hammond is a prolific contemporary gospel music composer. This piece of music is based off Isaiah 54:17. Written in 6/8 time it is musically structured to convey a sense of safety. The pace and rhythm of the work is equal to that of a person rocking a baby to sleep. The lyrics of the text repeats over and over, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper. It won’t work.” Towards the middle of the piece, the orchestra has a gospel “shout” section. The ensemble emphatically proclaims over and over, “It won't work.” This infectious jubilation culminates the shout section by ending in a single orchestral hit. To believe that one can endure beyond all matter of circumstances, no matter what that weapon is- including the life destroying shot from a gun, is an act of faith.

 

Anger (Classical): Frederick Douglass Funeral March

Nathaniel Clark Smith was a bandleader in the Midwest. He wrote this piece in tribute to the former slave turned abolitionist Frederick Douglass. This piece of music has no lyrics. It is a funeral march set in g minor. The main theme is contrasted by the trio section written in B Flat Major. Listening to this, a person can almost hear the consistent heavy rhythmic footsteps of a marching band. It is normal in human behavior for a person to stamp their foot especially when they are angry. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were good friends who held each other's intelligence in high esteem. Both men were ardent believers in the humanity promised in The Constitution and adamant about uniting the country of the United States. To lose a patriotic person like Frederick Douglass and know that the things he fought for have not fully come into fruition, all those who consider themselves Americans should be stamping their foot in angry outrage.

 

Bargaining (Jazz): Come Sunday

Duke Ellington wrote three sacred masses. In this particular selection from one of those masses, the text asks God to come down to earth and save humanity. “Dear Lord above, God almighty, God of love, please look down and see my people through.” In making that request, the person acknowledges that there is some pain in life that they must endure. The text contains the line, “I don’t mind the gray skies cause they’re just clouds passing by and by.” Bargaining is always a conversation with God or the universe. It is a human questioning the trade off between how much suffering is necessary and when divine intervention begins.

 

Depression (Blues): Black, Brown and White Blues

Big Bill Broonzy wrote this piece in 1946. Due to its blunt lyrics, he could not find anyone who would record it until many years later. As a blues song, the verses fit right in with a genre of music that talks about struggle, trials and tribulations. If only the verses had been written and not the chorus, this song would not have been jarring for its day and time. The chorus of the song more overtly drives home the reason the person is struggling. “Now if you’re white, you’re right, and if you’re brown, stick around; but if you're black- Oh, brother, git back, git back, git back.” James Cone in his final writing The Cross and The Lynching Tree reminds us that by bluntly singing about the lived reality of racism and personal trauma, blues music neatly straddles the line between depression in having one's humanity denied and hope in having one's humanity realized.

 

Acceptance (Soul): People Get Ready

Curtis Mayfield had an uncanny ability to channel social turmoil and use it to drive his music. In the chaos of the 60’s and 70’s Curtis Mayfield emphasized the need for everyone to view each other as part of the human family. A particular lyric line of text in this piece points to that commonality by subtly making the claim that we as human beings are all part of one creation. “Have pity on those whose choices grow thinner. For there's no hiding place from the kingdom’s throne.” When we strip away our personal possessions, titles, egos, accomplishments and money, we are left with nothing but the soul of the human. It is in that naked space where we are forced to take an honest look at ourselves and come to a place of personal acceptance of our moral failings.

 

Faith (Gospel): Total Praise

Richard Smallwood is known for his most famous work Total Praise. Based on psalm 121:1 the music starts softly like the first glimmer of sunlight transitioning from dawn to daybreak on a clear morning. When the lines, “You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life.” are sung, the music gently soars to a roaring finish symbolizing the arrival of much needed and anticipated help. In Puccini’s opera Turandot, based off a Chinese fairy tale, the Islamic Prince Calif must answer three riddles in order to marry the beautiful Chinese Princess Turandot. If he answers incorrectly, Prince Calif will be beheaded. The first riddle is,  “What dies each night but is reborn each day?” Prince Calif answers, “Hope.” Gospel music reminds us that no matter how dark our midnight is, no matter how long it lasts, hope for a new day with new possibilities is always just beyond where we can visibly see it. The only requirement is belief. Believing in something under such circumstances is always an act of faith.

Earlier Event: June 8
Triage Concert-84th Street
Later Event: June 19
Orchestra On Call