In November of this year, we were very lucky to have conductor, composer, and singer Lonnie Norwood in for 2 virtual workshops. This Artist in Residence experience, made possible by the Fodor Fund at ETHS, was not only engaging and informative, but also culminated in a virtual performance of one of Lonnie's original compositions. "Here" was written back in 2017 for one of Lonnie's choirs after the students expressed their worry over the lack of empathy they witnessed in Chicago and elsewhere. The lyrics, however, are timeless and relevant to nearly any situation where we need to extend care to one another:
I’ve seen you hurting from a distance and my heart just won’t keep still.
I can’t imagine all your pain, or the worry that you feel.
I offer my love, comfort and compassion.
Beyond every tear and darkest fear, I am here for you.
I will stand by you. You will never have to face the world alone.
I’ll be strong for you. I will sing for you.
Beyond every tear and darkest fear, I am here.
In the first workshop with Lonnie, he took a deep dive into the story behind "Here", challenging the singers to put more sincerity into their performance. He ended the workshop by giving us an intro to the historical and cultural context of Gospel music in the United States and its roots in Africa.
Eager to get to work with Lonnie again, the following week and final workshop was a close look at gospel music performance and practice. Building off of a concept we have been exploring in class -- the concept of Arranging music and how it affects authentic performance -- Lonnie showed us contrasting performances of the same song and asked the students to be critical viewers of each one. He moderated a discussion about what components create an authentic gospel performance, and what our singers need to remember when performing music from a culture or experience you might not personally belong to. The time flew by!
Incredibly grateful to the Fodor Fund, we enjoyed our 2-part workshop with Lonnie, and are now looking forward to the annual gospel performance experience with Fred Reed, who has agreed to return to ETHS and work with our singers in the virtual format. We are lucky indeed!
Check out our virtual performance of Lonnie Norwood's "Here".