Morning Worship: ‘The Spirit will not descend without a song’

The 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning service of worship and sermon allowed Chautauquans to experience the divine through sight, sound and movement. The stage from the previous night’s performance of Carmina Burana provided the Trinity Movement Choir space to show the congregation that the body is as much a part of worship as the soul. The Chautauqua Choir and the Rochester Oratorio Society provided an even larger sound than is normally enjoyed by the Chautauqua congregation.

And the Rev. Dwight D. Andrews brought his own blend of words and music to the platform as he played the saxophone obbligato for the morning anthem and preached a sermon titled “Call and Response: The Spirituals and the Blues.” His texts were Psalm 137: 1-9 and Romans 12:1-12.

“I am in a long line of Congregationalist preachers, and we don’t do a lot of call and response,” he said. “I am trying to add a few African-American church practices, and one of these is to get feedback from the congregation. These are coded responses, but they are meaningful.”

When the people in the congregation say “Amen, Rev, Amen” they mean that the preacher is doing alright. When they say “Tell it like it is,” they want you to say more. When they say “Make it plain,” it means the preacher is getting a little off track. And when they say “Bring it on home,” they mean the preacher is getting long-winded, and it is time to stop, Andrews said.

“LeRoi Jones, in his book Blues People, put forth the idea that the music and the people are the same; the music mirrors where the people are. The moans and the groans [of the blues] show how they grew up out of slavery. Gospel and jazz show the new reality of moving to the city. Music mirrors the people at any point,” said Andrews.

James Cone, in his book The Spirituals and the Blues, was one of the first to describe the relationship of the blues and the spirituals.

“James Cone wrote that the blues and spirituals come out of the same people and the same experiences,” Andrews said. “These are the same people who sang the blues and danced on Friday night and were in church singing spirituals on Sunday. They are one people with many experiences.”

Andrews said the times are such that even the blues have the blues.

“The violence in our churches and theaters shows there is so much need and neglect,” he said.

He asked the congregation if anyone had ever had the blues and then said, “Everyone’s hands should be up. August Wilson said that we don’t always know where they came from but the blues are saying what we need to say, they are saying what is important.

“I used to think that they were ‘old timey’ — for old-timey people, old-timey music and old times. I did not see the blues as part of my tradition. I was a modern music man. But the fundamentals of jazz come out of the blues.”

Andrews said the blues explain the important things in life through music: “When you lose your baby, someone you love, you have the blues. When you lose your baby and your horse, you have the blues. When you lose your baby, your horse and your job, those are the triple blues.”

“You don’t have to be black to have the blues,” he said. “You can have the ‘trying to get into medical school’ blues. You can have the ‘I lost my tuition money’ blues or the ‘bad children’ blues. ”

The blues can be witty or funny, such as Little Milton’s song, “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” in which he sings “If I don’t love you, baby, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry, and Mona Lisa was a man.”

The blues can also be satirical or social commentary. Andrews cited the song “I Wonder When I’ll Get to be Called a Man” by blues singer Big Bill Broonzy: “Will I have to wait until I’m 93?”

“If you don’t know the signs and symbols, you will miss something,” Andrews said. “Broonzy was talking about Southern black men who were still called ‘boy.’ The songs say something so the master doesn’t understand. ‘Steal Away,’ that we sang this morning, was about going to Jesus but it was also about escape from the plantation.”

He said young people tend to speak in coded speech.

“When I was young, we said a guy was ‘really cool’ meaning he was a hip person,” Andrews said. “Then the word ‘chillin’ ’ came along meaning to relax and now it is just ‘illin’.’ ”

Andrews called Psalm 137 coded speech, ancient blues. The psalm reflected the anger and loss of exile and the anger of having to sing for their captors: “How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

“We all should know what it means to be a stranger in a strange land. How do we sing in the midst of the consumerism around us? Yet we have to express ourselves. There is an irony in Psalm 137: They sang about singing when they could not sing.”

LeRoi Jones quoted an old proverb in his book: “The spirit will not descend without a song.”

“In bad situations we have to sing and shout,” Andrews said. “In good situations we have to sing and shout. All these songs [spirituals and blues] came out of people who could not see freedom but could sing freedom. They were saved in this existential way.”

He said the questions asked by the spirituals were often rhetorical. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” is a really a statement: “Yes, I was there.” The question is a profound statement of faith.

They were singing about the God who is able.

“Did my Lord deliver Daniel? Then why not every man? He saved Meshach, Shadrach and a bad negro — I mean Abednego,” he said. “Spirituals are a response to the blues. We know that God is able in the midst of our circumstances. We have both in our tool kit so we are able to do what God called us to do.”

Andrews asked what music says about us today.

“I am not sure, but we better listen,” he said. “We better understand the sounds. What is alienating people is coming out in the music, and if we don’t address it we will get more of the same.”

Slaves could not read, but they knew about Daniel and the content of the Bible because they sang about it.

“God gives you a voice, your own blues and your own spirituals,” he said. “How is God speaking to you? Life calls and God responds; we call and God responds. God is able to put a new song in our hearts.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr., director of the Chautauqua Department of Religion, presided. Nathaniel Currie, a fifth-generation Chautauquan, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, played the piano and the Massey Organ. Cat Hardesty was seated at the front of the stage providing sign interpretation of the service. Peter Steinmetz served as cantor for Responsorial Psalm 23, “Good Shepherd, Guide Me” by Laurel Elizabeth Whitney. The Trinity Movement Choir from Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, performed “Reconciliation” created for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The music for “Reconciliation” was the “Agnus Dei” from Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” from the second moment of his String Quartet, Op. 11. The Chautauqua Choir was joined by the Rochester Oratorio Society to sing the “Agnus Dei;” Eric Townell, artistic director of the Rochester Oratorio Society, conducted.

Andrews joined the Chautauqua Choir and Jared Jacobsen to perform the anthem “Steal Away” arranged by Howard Helvey. Andrews played the saxophone obbligato. The Trinity Movement Choir also participated in the anthem. The Rochester Oratorio joined the Chautauqua Choir for the offertory anthem, “Alleluia,” by Randell Thompson. Eric Townell conducted both groups. The organ postlude was “Final” [Symphonie I, vi] by Louis Vierne. The Edmund E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.