Strengthening community through music: Workshop to help Williamsburg find its voice

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This January, Williamsburg will become a “vocal community,”as residents, students and visitors come together to sing and discover the unifying power of music.

“Building a Vocal Community: The Power of Song in Community” is the creation of Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, an acclaimed singer, composer, teacher and former long-time member of the internationally-renowned African American female a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Singers and non-singers alike learn together in the oral tradition and share the experience of singing rhythms, chants, and songs from African and African American cultural traditions, while also learning about the historical and social context behind the music. Barnwell has conducted workshops throughout the United States and around the world for more than 30 years, with events ranging from three hours to five days.

“The Vocal Community workshop is an incredibly powerful experience—and a fun way for people of different racial or religious backgrounds and musical abilities to come together in a common effort,” said Jodi Fisler, a member of the organizing team who has participated in three of Dr. Barnwell’s programs. “It seems fitting to bring the workshop to Williamsburg now, as we’ve just celebrated key milestones related to our racial history, including the 240th anniversary of First Baptist Church and William & Mary’s dedication of Lemon and Hardy Halls, the first two buildings on campus named for African Americans.”

The Williamsburg workshop is sponsored jointly by All Together, the William &
Mary Lemon Project, the William & Mary Africana Studies Program, the William & Mary Music Department, Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, with generous financial support from the Williamsburg Community Foundation.

“Ysaye is a master teacher, and she really means it when she says that you don’t have to be able to sing or read music to add your voice,” said Judi Harris, a professor in William & Mary’s School of Education. Harris has participated in several Vocal Community workshops and is looking forward to attending the January event. “Contributing to these rich harmonies while being surrounded by them is nothing less than a transcendent experience.”

Want to go? The event will be held at the William & Mary School of Education beginning on Friday, January 27 from 6-9 p.m. and continuing on Saturday, January 28 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets are $50 for general admission and $15 for students. Lunch is included on Saturday at no additional cost. To register, visit www.tinyurl.com/vocalcommunity or search for the event on Eventbrite.com. For more information, email wmsbgvocalcommunity@gmail.com or call 757-565-2531.

Submitted by Jodi Fisler

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