Deadline for Choral Peacebuilding: Featuring Tutu Fellow, Dr. John Perkins
On April 17th, 2016, the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation, and Global Justice Tutu Fellow, Dr. John Perkins, Associate Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor of Music at Butler University presented, “Deadline for Choral Peacebuilding” at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts. Guest artists Ysaÿe Barnwell (formerly of Sweet Honey in the Rock), JiHAE (New York City multi-media artist) led a call to peacebuilding through song alongside Butler choirs, Nassim Al Saba Choir (United Arab Emirates), São Vicente a Capella (Brazil) via video, and local high school choirs. The energy from the event permeated the audience as all were encouraged to dance, move, and sing along throughout the evening.
The performance was the culmination of the Spring class taught by Perkins at Butler University entitled, “Peacebuilding Through Choral Singing.” It involved multiple Skype sessions between the Butler class, Nassim Al Saba Choir, and São Vicente a Capella. The class initiated dialogue about relevant social issues through choral singing, “providing a new antidote for addressing our societal divisions and fears.”
“We are not just making peace; we are building it one brick at a time. We’re changing the conversation here, away from division, exclusion, anger, and in some cases violence. This is a joyous but immediate call for looking inward and outward in order to build a new world together,” Perkins said in a Butler Newsroom interview about the event.
The evening began with a drumming performance of “Tshosholoza,” a traditional South African folk song. Immediately, attention was drawn above as voices from the balcony echoed down below. The Butler choir filled the stage swaying and stomping with the beat of accompanying Congo drums. Song title, description, and lyrics appeared on a screen that extended behind the choir for those who wanted to join along in the music.
After the opening performance, Perkins introduced and described the class and project that led to the event. He explained how often times when we sing or experience music, we don’t get to the root of what the music means. Skype sessions between Nassim Al Saba Choir, São Vicente a Capella, and Butler choirs discussed globally relevant conversations about social issues. The Butler class brought this dialogue back to Indianapolis through conversations with local high school choirs, also present at the event.
“Turn to your neighbor,” Perkins asked, “and I want you to talk to each other about something at the same time.” A cacophony rumbled through the auditorium and after a few moments, Perkins asked the audience to repeat what was said by their neighbors. The audience answered, “nothing.” Perkins responded, “This is the first part of building peace, that we must listen.” And with that, the performance continued.
Throughout the event, videos featuring Perkins and student performers, discussed topics of culture, gender identity, religion, peace, and kindness—labels that uniquely resonated with many of the performers. They discussed how these topics played into their lives and how it influenced the way through which they experienced music. The music brought passion, voice, and depth of understanding to sensitive global social issues that many groups deal with daily. Performances featured Arabic Poetry, African-American Spirituals, Brazilian music, and American pieces—some work that has endured centuries and traveled across the globe. Through multi-media presentations of song and video by the performers, the audience gained unique insight into how peacebuilding is understood and perpetuated by choral music in the United States, UAE, and Brazil.
The following performances included work directed by Nassim Al Saba Choir conductor, Chris Cameron with a few of the choir’s representative singers, and an interactive, audience-inclusive participatory performance with Patricia Costa of Brazil whose students joined through recorded video.
Guest performer and renowned multimedia artist, JiHAE, was welcomed to the stage for a moving performance of her song, “Let’s Come Together.” She shared with the audience how a loss of faith in humanity and helplessness motivated her to take action, “The crisis is so big that I felt helpless and sad about it, but I decided, you know it is so easy to stay helpless, but it’s best to just do something about it. So this is a song of hope.” JiHAE’s song inspired a movement and gathering of people from different races, religions, class, and nations and to support the sanctity of human rights.
Building from the momentum of JiHEA’s empowering performance, guest artist Ysaÿe Barnwell commanded the stage, energetically instructing all choirs and the audience in an all-inclusive performance of “Now Let Us Sing” in round with “Amazing Grace” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The audience warmed up their vocal chords and within a few moments, the entire auditorium boomed with the voices of old, young, students, parents, teachers, children, men, and women. No voice stood alone; by the end of the evening the room was a single united choir building community and peace through singing.
There is no single way to engage in peacebuilding. Contributing to global peace involves a special contribution of all diverse skills and talents. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” Through music and the arts, we can connect and engage with peace on a new level, one that explores the root meaning behind music that expresses deep emotions and empowers global communities.
To watch the full performance, visit the DTC Talks YouTube channel. To learn more about Tutu Fellow, Dr. John Perkins, visit our website at www.desmondtutucenter.org.
Partners for this event include Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation, and Global Justice, the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, Christel House South High School, Hamilton Heights High School, and Shortridge High School.
By: Allison Troutner