Black History Month at Grace
By Sarah Hicks,, Director of Music
Annually, February marks Black History Month in Canada. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the history and legacy of Black Canadians and to remember the history of slavery in North America. As Christians, the imperative to reflect on this is a deeply theological one. Sonia Hinds, an Anglican Priest in the Toronto Dicoese and author of Black and Anglican in Canada? A Womanish Response writes that
“from a Christian perspective, Christ is the image of God, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we are “in Christ.” This means all barriers are broken down; as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “We are a rainbow people of God.” St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, affirmed “we are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is in the celebration of our diversity that we come to a deeper understanding of that great truth: Jesus came to save us all. The church, as the body of Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit, shows God’s love to the world.”
This coming Sunday February 16th, we will recognize Black History Month through music composed by Black men and women including Canadian R. Nathaniel Dett, Moses Hogan, and Lena McLin. Sacred music from the African diaspora is diverse in style, rich in complexity, and imbued with profound theological meaning. In particular I would like to touch upon the significance of the Spiritual. These are songs of protest, lament, resistance and freedom, which emerged out of the experience of enslaved African people who were uprooted to America against their will and enslaved. They brought with them a rich cultural heritage of music and dancing that were “essential features of the lifeblood of the people.” Arthur Jones writes that for African people, music is always “directly connected to a serious and fundamentally spiritual celebration of life in which people in the community affirm regularly their relationship with the forces to which they owe their existence.” It is no wonder that music continued to function as a therapeutic and spiritual collective resource for these people finding ways to survive slavery.
I hope that the musical offerings on February 16th will help us to remember the painful history of slavery in our country, to recognize that we still have work to do to overcome the racism that still exists in our world, and to inspire us in the work of creating just and loving communities for all people.
Spotlight on Robert Nathaniel Dett
Robert Nathaniel Dett (October 11, 1882 – October 2, 1943), often known as R. Nathaniel Dett and Nathaniel Dett, was a Canadian-American Black composer, organist, pianist, choral director, and music professor. Born and raised in Canada until the age of 11, he moved to the United States with his family and had most of his professional education and career there. During his lifetime he was a leading Black composer, known for his use of African-American folk songs and spirituals as the basis for choral and piano compositions in the 19th century Romantic style of Classical music.
He was among the first Black composers during the early years after the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was organized. His works often appeared among the programs of Will Marion Cook's New York Syncopated Orchestra. Dett performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Boston Symphony Hall as a pianist and choir director. (From Wikipedia)
Jones, Arthur C. Wade in the water: The wisdom of the spirituals. Leave a Little Room Fdn, 2005. P. 1