Negro Spirituals Alive and Well at Summer Music Camp

The older students working on Negro Spirituals in their academic class at summer camp. L. to R. Elysa Pulliam, Morgan Pearson, Makayla Hegler, Jacquirah Smith, Zion Rucker, Evan Shoulders, master teacher Patsy Lockhart, Dominic Smith, Malachi O’Donal, Elijah Brown and Devall Matthews. Photo by Sue Taylor.
“What are spirituals? …songs of our ancestors from way back when.”
“Why songs of spirit? …They give vision for a better life.”
These words spoken at the final recital of the Music, Sports & Academic Week Program of the Betty D. Gadling Fine Art Academy, which culminated June 22, came directly from the hearts and minds of children in the pre-teen age group.
Last September, the Allen Temple Unity Choir sang at a Friends of Negro Spirituals event. This year’s summer camp is a result of a multi-layered collaboration guided by the mission to which Mary Cobb Hill, Post Publisher Paul Cobb’s sister, dedicated over 50 years of her life, until she passed away in December 2017.
She was determined to preserve, teach and keep alive the golden resource that is Negro spirituals.
The Music Academy moved in that direction this year adding an “academic” component in reading, writing, and history. Master Teacher Patsy Lockhart created a curriculum centered around Negro Spirituals.
“Two of our students wanted to write their own spirituals,” she said. “The spoken words in the final recital came from the students.”
“They say the songs and cries of my ancestors provided relief from their names taken away. “They say the songs of my ancestors helped them to hold on and on although they wanted to die.”
The summer camp enrolled 42 students, age 3-13, from the community, including from Faith Fellowship Baptist Church, New Birth Church, Hamilton Square Baptist Church, Destiny Christian Fellowship, Faith Baptist Church, Downs Memorial United Methodist Church, and Allen Temple, along with public schools. Sixty percent of the students were from outside Allen Temple.
There were six teachers, three youth volunteers, 11 adult volunteers, which included Goetz Brothers Sporting Goods and Oakland Parks & Recreation.
Along with generous donors, the camp expanded from a half  day to full days of activities for the children attending. Fee for the camp was $40, which included lunch.
Collaboration with Cantare Con Vivo, a music organization in Oakland whose mission is fostering community, brought choral teacher Conway Tan to the camp.  He hopes this effort will lead to children joining the youth choir of his organization.
The camp Choral Class rehearsal on Thursday last week, focused on “I will sing hallelujah.”
Teacher Tan and accompanist Don Pribor, were able to guide the 9-13 age group of students to a high level of choral performance in preparation for the final recital.
Music camp director Sister Heidi Hill, an accomplished vocalist herself, is determined to expand music programs in the community. In addition to the annual summer camp, weekly private music lessons are available for $40 a month.
“Why do spirituals live from one generation to another…? Asked the children. “Is it because we, too, can feel the spirit? Is it because we too can feel the love, vision and prayers of our ancestors? Is it that we, too, can feel what they felt?”
For more information, call Allen Temple Baptist Church at 510-544-8910.


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