Walk the Walk

Cantor Brian Mayer
Dean, School of Jewish Music
Feb. 6, 2013

Talk about pluralism. Talk about diversity. Talk the talk? Or walk the walk.

I had the privilege of being part of an amazing Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Providence on Sunday, Jan. 27. Six choirs from around the city joined together to pay tribute to Dr. King's legacy in a concert entitled "Singing the Dream."  

walk the walk

The program opened with all of the choirs, 150 voices strong, performing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," conducted by the leading gospel choir conductor in Rhode Island, Dr. Clarice Thompson. This concert, which took place at the historic Beneficent Congregational Church in downtown Providence, a house of worship endowed by Rockefeller money but which is now home to a multiracial/ethnic congregation, was packed with 750 people.  

Each choir had a chance to perform a piece or two of its own repertoire, demonstrating a taste of its own style and culture. Included in the mix was the Providence Gay Men's Chorus and two Jewish choirs under my direction. My adult group from Temple Emanu-El, where I serve as cantor, sang a Klezmer-flavored "Sim Shalom" setting, accompanied by our own Klezmer band. My teen choir, Providence HaZamir, sang the HaZamir anthem, imploring brothers and sisters to sing as one nation. Gospel music was performed as well as classic repertoire one would expect from New England blue-blood Congregationalists. The mélange was just what we had hoped for.

The concert ended with a stirring rendition of "Let Every Thing That Hath Breath" (Psalm 150), a gospel wonder, performed by the full forces of the combined choirs. And then, my favorite moment: 750 people rising to their feet, hand in hand, singing "WE SHALL OVERCOME." I shared the conductor's podium during that moment with Dr. Thompson; me, a white Jewish straight man holding hands with an African American lesbian.

Dr. King, looking down from his heavenly abode, I'm sure was smiling like never before. Don't just talk the talk; walk the walk.