Sunday, November 11, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 64 (blogging-remote edition)

Too tired to do much writing--but I'm back here, after another long day on Southwest (Lubbock-Dallas-Chicago-Islip) for another week of research, culminating in a day-long symposium and concert. This trip follows the initial September trip--which was mostly archival--and is intended to complement via interviews, site visits, and relatively focused and selective archival followup.

Incredible and positive visit to AME Bethel Church in East Setauket, the oldest African-American congregation in Long Island, and the home church of people who still have family stories about the musicians who posed for my painter. One of the nice things about getting longer-in-the-tooth as an ethnomusicologist is that you have a little more experience upon which to draw when you go into a new situation, especially one in which you're an outsider or a minority. I started attending African Baptist or Methodist services in my teens (heritage of my '60s activist mother) and so I know some of what you don't do: most principally, you don't sit back and try to be a fly on the wall.

So when the Pastor and his wife and the music director ask you to join them for their pre-service Bible study, you smile and accept. And sit there quietly and smile and nod and comment, even if, as those who know me might say, "That's an awful lot of Jesus for Dr Coyote." And when they invite you into the service, and get to the "Welcome Visitors" segment, and the Jamaican lady visiting who speaks before you gives a beautiful extemporaneous sermon about gratitude, and then the Pastor indicates you, and you say "I thank God for this congregation and their hospitality" and go on to describe your research and your desire to tell a "story that's been left out of the history books" about the crucial contribution African-Americans to the early history of popular music in this country, because it ain't your God's house you're in (that would be the Web of Indra,or the stupas where my teacher's ashes lie), but it's their God's house, and their God got them through 400 years of the most brutal cultural and physical destruction, and you know you need their God's help if you're going to make this connection and tell this story.

And it works, and they say "yes Lawd" and "praise Jesus" and clap their hands as you get warmed up. And they press around you afterward and give you names and take your card and promise to talk to elderly relatives.

And, of course, they sing like angels--beautifully enough to bring tears to your ears.

More tomorrow.

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