Monday, February 22, 2010

Strong Threads - The Power of Story, Music and Dance

This past Saturday my family enjoyed a road trip to Hopkins, South Carolina, outside of Columbia. It’s a rural area, different but similar to the areas near here, except the dirt is more like sand and not the red clay so dominate in the Piedmont. My granddaughter, Kendall, performed on an outdoor stage beneath a massive spreading oak on a glorious and rare 66 degree February day.

It was a day of story telling and music, called Strong Threads, held at the Harriet Barber house, one of the 40 acres and a mule given to the freed slaves in 1865. The clapboard yellow house is still intact and still owned by the Barber family.
It truly was a step back in time - all because of the stories – the stories offered in songs and drums, dancing and poetry readings, the songs of struggle and survival, losses and healings. Eleven children were raised in the Barber house at a time when it was only two rooms. We could feel their presence.
As my granddaughter performed with the Phillis Wheatley Little People’s Repertoire, (another group started by an incredibly strong woman 80 years ago), I realized how story and song carry us through .
When we tell ancestral stories we gift our children with their strength and courage. When they sing the songs of their heritage, they reconnect in that long spiral of life in ways we can’t connect in our everyday lives. And even, as in our case, where this isn't our particular heritage, the stories and stories-within-songs, help us to understand other culture's histories. This is how we grow in acceptance and wisdom, connectivity and the opportunity to enjoy other cultures. For instance, when Kendall's theatre teacher, Ms. Jennings introduced the song, "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" we learned how boats were the means of transportation for the freed slaves and they would sing to whoever was rowing to keep their strength up.
Kendall is very fortunate to be in this repetoire group, espoecially since she started when she was only 6-years old.  Everytime I go to a rehearsal, I'm reminded of the movie, Fame. Ms. Jennings is a tough, self-sacrificing and dedicated teacher, who in three months turned Kendall's group of K-5 and first graders into a confident, inspired troupe and chorus line. These young singers and dancers are introduced to true theater as they perform  Ms. Jennings own arrangements using elements of jazz, Broadway, folk and ethnic dancing - whatever fits the mood and theme. 
During his afternoon of performances, from these young children to professional musicians, college actors and college student African dance troupes, gosepl singers and Gullah cuisine experts, we discover it's the stories of the people we remember.
The stories are forever, keeping the people... their fears, dreams, their turmoil and hopes, and ultimately their accomplishments alive.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post. I would love to read something written by you set in the decade after the Emancipation Proclamation... you should use this for writing fodder. I love learning about the history of our state and the people that lived here in the generations before us.


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