RPM Voices Of Rhode Island: Precious Memories 2
My daughter Lian has been singing with RPM Voices of Rhode Island for the past five years now; what an emotional triumph to watch her perform with our beloved local gospel chorus group, and what an intelligent, compassionate, competent and amazing young lady she has become. Each RPM Voices workshop and concert is a gathering of communities, faiths, and people from all paths of life. I am always awed by the wonderful music arrangements from Dr. Clarice LaVerne Thompson; the splendor,harmony and power of RPM Voices as group, and the remarkable energy of their performances. If Gospel music is about using song to convey your personal story; RPM Voices of Rhode Island’s story is about unity, light, peace, joyfulness, and most of all, love.
The RPM Voices of Rhode Island, (Reaching People through Music) formerly the RPM Singers, was formed in 2003 by musicologist and multi AUDELCO award winning composer, arranger and musical director, Dr. Clarice LaVerne Thompson, who was then an adjunct visiting lecturer in the Department of Africana Studies at Brown University, and the Music Director for Rites and Reason Theatre. The choir’s early beginnings evolved out of a choral music workshop that Dr. Thompson organized. Recognizing an opportunity to bring together a very diverse community to create music, Dr Thompson opened the workshop to all people, regardless of prior musical training. Over the years workshop participants consisted of students, faculty and staff of Brown University, students from other Rhode Island colleges, universities and high schools, and community members of greater metropolitan Providence and its surrounding cities and towns. In 2013, more than 65 choir members, ages 8-80, representing 26 different households of faith, including three Jewish synagogues, comprise RPM Voices of Rhode Island. We are a prism of peoples of many cultures, races, religions and spiritual beliefs. It is a united community of voices who love music that is spiritually uplifting, culturally enriching and grounded in the discipline of musical training.
According to an article in Times about Singing Changes Your Brain: “When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony”…”As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.”
The first time when I heard Mahalia Jackson’s Trouble of the World, I fell in love with gospel music. Having my darling child singing in a community chorus has been one of the best decisions I’ve made as a parent. I still vividly remember how a very timid Lian stood on the side line of the chorus with a soft voice; today, she stands tall in the center, poised and confident. Looking through the images from the past brought me to tears – what an amazing grace and tremendous journey for this resilient child. An African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child; I’m grateful for the love and support from Dr. Clarice LaVernne Thompson and chorus members. RPM Voices of Rhode is our village; we didn’t only find a place to sing with unity and joy; we found families and communities we are now included and involved in.
Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my help is coming from You
Your peace you give me in time of the storm
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to you
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
For his 1996 tune, Total Praise, the gospel musician Richard Smallwood said he wrote the song during difficult time of his life. “Songs of pain last,” Smallwood says. “They make a difference. My prayer has always been, ‘Give me songs that last.’ I want my songs to last after I’m gone.”
From the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation – “The prologue of Gospel Music owes its grandeur and its sense of veracity to Thomas Andrew Dorsey who is called the ‘Father of Gospel Music’. He combined Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and blues. Mr. Dorsey wrote many songs, two of his greatest were ‘Precious Lord‘ and ‘Peace in The Valley.’ Both of these songs were written after the tragic death of his wife and newborn son. These songs have become community owned songs, as singers and listeners throughout the world relate to the words of assurance that are delivered and adopted in the messages”…”The influence of Mahalia Jackson is evident in her style and references to the storms of life and of the good that is produced through overcoming adversity. Her melodious voice stirred listeners as they ‘Moved On Up A Little Bit Higher‘ and invited them to participate in her songs. She developed a flair for composing songs that moved the heart and regenerated the soul of a people who looked to the hills from whence cometh their help. The songs were so exciting and popular that congregations automatically joined in the singing and shouting as they lifted up the name of Jesus.”
Take a listen NPR’s Michele Norris NPR’s Michele Norris discusses the rich history of gospel and spirituals with Robert Darden, author of People Get Ready:A New History of Black Gospel Music . “Transcending emotion, this spiritual ‘anointing’ is upheld as the pinnacle of human experience. Its advent – said to be facilitated by the mind-focusing power of praise and prayer, song and sermon – serves as the experiential leitmotif of religious expression in the sanctified church.”
In Chorus America commissioned a new study there were key finds of choruses in American life: Choral singing continues to be the most popular form of participation in performing art, adults who sing in choruses are remarkably good citizens, children who sing in choruses have academic success and valuable life skills, and the decline in choral singing opportunities for children and youth is a key area for concern.
RPM(Reach People through Music) Voices’ mission is to create a musical space for all voices to participate in the African American choral tradition through an ongoing experiential education cycle of instruction and performance. United in musical and cultural education, RPM Voices seek to demonstrate a community of harmony and inclusion where all are welcomed and all are valued. RPM Voices are committed to Reaching People through Music by welcoming all levels of musicality, life experiences, familiarity with the genre; they encourage an inter-generational experience, reaching out to youth to ensure their opportunity to learn about a musical and cultural heritage. RPM Voices provide a nurturing space that cultivates a musically literate society while fostering social bonds among diverse ethnic populations throughout Rhode Island and neighboring communities. They are committed to excellence in education and performance, recognizing the importance of holding the music as a sacred trust to previous and for future generations.
RPM Voices of Rhode Island has appeared with great acclaim in various small and large venues across the state — performing at RPM’s Annual Gospel Brunch (in 2013 held at Rough Point, Newport) and Advent of Unity Concert, inviting guest clinicians including Victor Simonson, associate conductor of “Memphis the Musical,” and Josef Sorett, assistant professor of Religion and African American Studies at Columbia University. RPM was the headline group for the Gospel Brunch at Sound Session 2007, 2008, and 2009, a Providence, Rhode Island city-wide music festival; singing for the MLK, Jr. State Holiday Commission; at the Inauguration celebration for the Mayor of the City of Providence, Angel Taveras; NAACP Providence Chapter events; 2011 Emancipation Day at Roger Williams Park; Together at Vets Multicultural Festival 2011; WaterFire Providence 2009 and 2011; Gospel/Black History celebrations at Bryant University, Johnson & Wales University and Rhode Island College; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall of Fame awards at Providence City Hall; “Singing the Dream”(a musical tribute to MLK – 150 voices from Shir Emanu-El of Temple El, Kol Kesem HaZamir, Providence Gay Men’s Chorus, Beneficent Congregational Church, Central Congregational Church and RPM) and for two years in the winter at several nursing and assisted care facilities as well as the summer park series for the City of Providence — to name a few. RPM Voices of Rhode Island is also featured in the book, “A Thousand Ships.”
A strong partnership was formed in 2010 between RPM Voices of Rhode Island and Theta Psi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. of Providence, Rhode Island in support of their scholarship initiatives. In 2012, RPM Voices of Rhode Island performed for an audience of 3200 at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. National North Atlantic Regional Conference held in Providence, Rhode Island. Other notable awards and honors received by RPM Voices of Rhode Island are the 2010 New Light Award from Beneficent Congregational Church, Providence, RI and the Alfred Nash Patterson Grant for the 2011-2012 season from Choral Arts New England. RPM Voices of Rhode Island has been recognized as a true voice throughout the state that values participation and mutuality garnering support to build capacity by receiving an Expansion Arts Program grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities(http://rpmvoices.com/).