What you’re saying | Dealing with racism: No Big Thing really
By Eddie Bell
It wasn’t long after my previous article, “Blacks see racism daily,” appeared in the Sunday Record that I realized that I had more to say on the subject. I felt an obligation to express my thoughts about the business of dealing with racism.
Although I put this notion aside for about three months, two things happened that pushed me to return to the subject of racism. First, I attended the recent joint concert of Ars Choralis of Woodstock and the United Voices Choir of Riverview Missionary Baptist Church of Kingston; and second, as I was driving down Albany Post road in New Paltz, I saw the woman, let’s call her Aunt Callie, who used to babysit my daughter years ago.
Ars Choralis, a mostly white choral group, chose to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King by presenting a benefit concert at Maverick Concert Ball (Woodstock) for the rebuilding of the Riverview Baptist Church, damaged by an arson fire in 1996. The following excerpt from the concert program, “May we all be moved to honor the dream through a rededication of our lives to the principles of justice and brotherhood…” was an emphatic statement against racism: But I’ve seen such statements before and I must confess though I appreciated the sentiment of the evening and the financial support forthcoming to Riverview (my church home), I did not anticipate being moved. In fact my wife intimated to me we took our seats in the rear of the eater, “If Pastor Hardin and United Voices can reach this audience,” which seemed staid, “I’ll be surprised.”
What followed soon after changed my mind. Ars Choralis moved beautifully through their part of the concert, supported by the engaging voice of Sandy Lomax, “a renowned (African American) jazz stylist.” Then Reverend Hardin and the United Voices Choir, steeped in the southern black Baptist tradition, took their turn on stage. The reverend lost no time in telling the audience that they were about to participate in a “worship experience.” Rev Hardin later said to me, “We had church tonight.” The predominantly white audience responded to his call and the rousing gospel music by frequently rising to their feet during the singing. It also rewarded the choir with vigorous standing ovations. I’ve observed this reaction before, and though I was having a good time and pleasantly surprised that my wife was wrong in her doubt, l was still not moved.
Then something happened. Reverend Hardin introduced the choir’s final selection, “The Jesus In Me Loves the Jesus In You,” and as the choir was singing, they left the stage and mingled with the audience. In the following moments, the impediments of race and culture disappeared and the choir became one with the audience. Voices mingled, hugs abounded and this moment of harmony was so real it could not only be seen in the eyes of the people, it could be felt as well. I was finally moved!
This happening, of course, was not a pronouncement that everything is right with the world, but it is one more bit of evidence that diverse cultures and races can mix with one another and share moments of true affection. It was the antithesis of racism. I came away thinking that the practice of racism is the dying gasp of bigots and that it pales in comparison with the power of just human beings who really believe, “that all men are created equal.” Some in the audience probably came to the concert out of curiosity, and some because they anticipated the music and wanted to be entertained. The people that stayed well beyond the end of the concert and participated in the culminating agape love experience, did so because they were comfortable sharing a pleasant moment with a neighbor.
The casual sighting of my daughter’s former babvsitter was what I have just described, but it reminded me that it was possible for a white woman to “mother” black children (she cared for other black children too) as naturally as she would her own. It was also natural for the little black children to feel at ease addressing a white woman as “Aunt.”
So after these occurrences, I revisited my thoughts on racism and realized that before I could bring a fresh perspective to the discussion, it would be necessary for me to separate the concept of racism from the practice of racial discrimination. By doing so, I was then able to discern that racism is an attitude or ingrained personal philosophy, and as such, is nearly impossible to alter in an adult person. It also helped me to deduce that the group struggle is more properly waged against racial discrimination (prejudicial/unlawful treatment based on skin color and ethnicity), and not against people’s attitudes or beliefs, the battle against racism is best waged in the classroom and in houses of worship.
With this understanding, I can feel comfortable dealing with people on an individual level and step around the racists who place themselves in my way. In fact I can treat racists the same way that I treat mosquitoes: stay as far away from the pests as possible, but when they bite, scratch the bump when it itches and “keep gett’n up.”
Most of my African American colleagues, friends and associates who have succeeded in their careers have done so by pursuing education, taking advantage of opportunities and by forming eclectic relationships with well-meaning folk among their own race and in the dominant society. They did not empower racism by letting it discourage them, or give them reason to fail. Conversely, they recognized racism as one of the many obstacles that they had to face on the way up; and in the same way as they approached these other obstacles, they found a way to contradict racism’s influence.
I believe that on an individual level the majority of people deplore racism or at least do not want to be identified with it.
I have always learned by personal experiences gained through my military career, in graduate school, during my career as an educator, and most recently as a professional writer. I have always found (or they have found me) whites who have supported me and thus helped me to achieve. The racists who have insulted me or tried to hold me back, have been few in number in comparison.
The realization that the racists in my life have been outnumbered makes it possible for me to judge white people on their individual merits (the sarne way I judge black people). I try very hard not to let the evil perpetrated by white racists and bigots to affect my relationships with white people who have vastly different motivations. “To keep it real,” as the young people say, I find ways to deal with seething anger resulting from incidents like the lynching of James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper, Texas, by white supremacist or the indescribable tragedy of the white mobs’ burning of Rosewood, a former all-black town in Florida; and still maintain my ability to recognize the good in most of the white people that I encounter on a personal level.
So while I will continue to fight the abhorrent practice racial discrimination and racial exclusion; and while I continue to work for the education and elevation of black people, I will not be consumed with worry about racism. It is more important for me to dissuade black young men and women from allowing the racist views held by others to become an excuse for failing to live up to their God-given potential. They, and the rest of us, need to understand that we only empower racism, and therefore the racists who practice it, when we give their cause equal billing with the efforts of people who are trying to do the right thing. As my brother Carl so aptly says, “Of the problems facing Blacks (lack of education, crimes of violence, unemployment, teenage pregnancy), racism is barely in the top ten.”
Dido and Aeneas at Opus 40
By Philip H. Farber, Correspondent
Opus 40, the huge landscape sculpture in Saugerties, is a magical setting all by itself, an exciting place to wander through and explore. It’s also been a great setting for concerts, over the years.
Now, area chorale group Ars Choralis will be bringing a performance of some magical music to the Fite Road landmark, a concert version of Henry Purcell’s opera, “Dido and Aeneas,” on Saturday evening.
“The music fits the monument,” says Ars Choralis Director Barbara Pick-hardt. “The scenes are comfortable in their places, where they are being sung from. The audience will hear the music coming from many different areas, from above them, from in front of them, to the side. At one point there is an echo chorusthat is in the trees, hidden behind the audience, and the chorus will be singing from the area near the orchestra and the echo will come from behind the audience. It’s an amazing effect. It’s in the music. The music just seems to work there. It’s almost as if the music wants to be heard from this place.”
Ars Choralis has a history of performances at the bluestone sculpture and this opera comes as a natural extension of the group’s history.
“I have been the conductor for 24 years and a singer before that,” Pickhardt explains. “We sang a lot of madrigals and Renaissance music in the early days of the group. We sang at Opus 40. We would meander among the stones and stop and sing a couple of madrigals. People would gather around and listen and then we would move to another place. It was an extraordinary connection … of the music and the stones, the whole creation of Opus 40 and the music we were singing. I’ve always felt that early music belonged at that place. I have had a dream of doing the music from ‘Dido and Aeneas’ at some point in my life. It just all materialized in the last couple years. I mentioned it to Johanna Hall, who is the president of Ars Choralis, and she picked up on it and immediately thought it was a great idea. She spoke to Tad Richards (curator of Opus 40) and he thought it was a great idea. It just kind of mushroomed from there. Other people picked up on the idea and it is now happening. It’s just been a long-held dream of mine to have this music at that particular place. It’s extraordinary. It’s actually going to happen.”
The Concert Version of “Dido and Aeneas” is not a staged opera, but will incorporate a unique concept of presentation inspired by the sculpture.
“It is a concert presentation,” Pickhardt tells us, “but the music moves from place to place using what Harvey Fite created, his artistic sense of motion in the sculpture, the curves, the stones, the various levels, the crevices, the way the light plays on it. All of that is used in the presentation in that each scene is presented from the place that it fits best.” The way the concert is presented will also be fairly unique among Opus 40 concerts. “The audience will be sitting in the amphitheater, so they will be looking south at the obelisk,” Pickhardt explains … “Usually people come from the house and concerts are done with people sitting on the lawn and looking northward, apparently. This will be just the opposite. The whole concert is presented using the hill, the monument, the cliff, there’s a small grove, some trees in one little area, and we use that… So the music moves from place to place. The witches scene is elevated above everyone else. They are on a plateau, a circular ridge beneath the obelisk, so that it is almost mystical to hear their singing coming from that place.”
THE CONCEPT was created by Rckhardt along with Ars Choralis members and associates Stephen Kitsakos, Johanna Hall, Ed Peters, and Arthur Fama. For this production, Ars Choralis will feature 33 singers and a six-piece instrumental ensemble.
“There are 30 in the chorus and three singers who are not members of the chorus,” the director says. “Two are very connected to Ars Choralis, they are local people: Jan Evers-Davies is singing the part of the sorceress and Cecilia Keehn is singing the part of Belinda. Soprano John Eapusta has soloed for us in our last two concerts and just stopped the show each time. He’s an extraordinarily gifted young man. He’s going to sing the part of the Spirit. All the other singers are members of Ars Choralis. All but Dido will be singing in the chorus. We have an orchestra of very fine instrumentalist string players from the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and the Albany Symphony. It’s just a small ensemble of six people. Mary Jane Cory is the harpsichordist. She is very well known in this area. She is a professor at New Paltz, a specialist in early music, and a very gifted musician.”
“Dido and Aeneas” is a mythic tale of tragic love and sorcery.
Dido is the queen of Carthage and Aeneas is a prince of Troy,” Pickhardt says. “His boat, because of a storm, is thrown off course and he lands in Carthage. They strike up a love affair. There’s a group of witches who are very jealous of Dido. They plot to get rid of Aeneas by sending one of their own, masked, asa spirit, as a messenger from Jove, who tells Aeneas that he must leave immediately to save Troy. Aeneas believes him and goes to Dido and says he must leave. Of course, she is very upset. She can’t live without him.
Eventually he becomes apologetic and wants to change his mind … At that point she says “That you have once thought of leaving me is enough. My life is over.’ Indeed, she does die at the end. We don’t know, in the myth, if she commits suicide or just dies from a broken heart… It has a sad ending.”
The music of Henry Purcell is dramatic, early baroque music.”The music is certainly engaging,” Pickhardt explains. “The soloists have very dramatic dialogue to sing and the choral parts are charming and engaging. My singers have all fallen in love with the music. It colors the words. In music we call it ‘word painting.’ Purcell would take a word like ‘storm’ and color it so that when the singers actually sing it, it sounds stormy. Much of it is light and airy and yet other parts are minor and very dramatic.