The Gifts of Gospel

For me one of the most exciting and important roles of music in our society is its ability to build community.  Magic happens when people come together to sing or make music.  Musicians connect and relate across social, economic, ethnic, academic and other differences when they share the common goal of bringing life to a piece of music.  I have never experienced this more profoundly than when I had the privilege of working with Karen Burke and the York University Gospel Choir.  What an amazing experience to be her T.A. – talk about whole body, holistic and integrative ‘musiking’ (David Elliott)!

Here’s a clip of YUGC performing a gospel arrangement of Go Down Moses.  It was very cool to see this piece develop from the very beginning stages of learning through to this performance. Awesome ‘fly-on-the-wall’ moments!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2DqOz51_SM

What Professor Burke does in the world might be summarized as a life’s mission of community building.  She brings individuals into her choir families, not only at York U but with her Toronto Mass Choir, she builds musical skills and encourages performance.  There is no doubt that students feel like they are a valued member of a musical community. Her choirs also create communities with their audiences when they perform in participatory, interactive concerts.  It seems that for Professor Burke, greater knowledge is acquired from interconnected and shared experiences than from individual learning alone. She believes that belonging to a community of learners, as well as a community of ‘faith’ is an essential component to education.  Her approach is non-hierarchical and inclusive.  She places value on personal narrative, personal experience and emotional responses, using these subjectivities as a kind of research to inform knowledge.

Karen Burke uses her skills and values system to bring to light the importance of different types of musical literacy. Gospel music demands a different skill set than Western Art Music, with emphasis placed on oral transmission, listening, improvising, harmonizing and storytelling.   Expertise in these types of musical literacy places value on a ‘non-conservatory’ pedagogy, and provides opportunities for students to engage with the music from a variety of different entry points.  There is a multi-faceted richness to this approach to learning.

This learning is then communicated through shared performance; for Karen Burke, knowledge is performative.   Everyone in attendance at a concert – singers, band members and audience members – are all called to ‘witness’ the sharing of knowledge through performance.  Everyone is included and encouraged.  Knowledge is not stored in the printed score or in the music history textbook but rather it is stored within individuals’ interpretation and sharing of who they are and what they know.  I think this is a wonderful model for developing deep connections in our relationships with students, and in life.

YUGC will have their end-of-term concerts on Friday November 24 and Saturday November 25 starting at 7:00pm at the York U performance facilities.  The events link is here if you’d like more details, or to purchase tickets.   http://music.ampd.yorku.ca/events/

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