Project - Spirituals
The Spirituals project is a collaborative interdisciplinary research project that examines the relationships between music, social justice, and race. The project is centered on The Spirituals Project (TSP) is a multicultural, multigenerational, and interfaith 70-member community choir founded in 1998 with a unique tripartite mission: performance, social justice, and education based at the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music. TSP’s repertoire focusses on the spirituals, songs originally created and sung by enslaved peoples in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries that communicate these people’s experiences of pain, violence, death, and hopes for the future. Importantly, these songs also critiqued slavery, advocated for social justice, communicated secret messages, and motivated and inspired enslaved people.
TSP members are dedicated to performing in the community as well as confronting the issues of social justice, racism, and violence that the spirituals themselves address within the choir. Choir members discuss the history of the Spirituals and their own experiences with racism and social justice. They ask: “Is it ok for white people to sing the Spirituals? How do we perfom a song that depicts violence against an enslaved person? What do we want the audience to understand? What does it mean for a white person to sing about an enslaved person’s pain? How can I reconcile the fact that my ancestors were slave owners? How do we connect with the pain we are singing about in different ways? How do we engage with community members who do not like seeing white people singing the Spirituals?”
In our research, we seek to (1) document the choir’s activities and individual members’ experiences to illuminate TSP’s impact on members and possible future directions and (2) form partnerships with other community music organizations in Denver that engage with social justice and race. We hope to expand our understandings of how different people and communities connect music and social justice in order to shed light on the impact of community arts projects in local communities and illuminate the unique possibilities of music communities offer social and racial justice movements. As we conduct this research, we plan to also build and lead a community engaged learning course in which DU students will partner with community music organizations to document and explore their work and impact on the larger community.
This collaborative research project draws on qualitative and quantitative methodologies from social work and ethnomusicology/anthropology as well as Drs. Scott’s, Whitmore’s, and Pacheco’s different areas of expertise in music, religion, social justice, race, and community outreach projects. We hope that this research will elucidate the impact of different community music projects, but also foster greater understanding of race and social justice issues within our DU and larger Denver community.