Spot in Time

The last few months have, obviously, involved a far reduced presence for me online. Mostly this has to do with so-called real-world work and the demands that the regular school year put on teachers. I should have long ago said thank you to everyone who continues to stop by on a regular basis looking for updates, even as they are less frequent these days than we have all become accustomed to (avfl traffic is still quite robust, btw … so thank you again). Unlike my less loquacious colleague across the way, my reduced presence is not a sign of waning interest (and note to sgmblogger: I was at a production of Billy Joel and Twila Tharp’s “Moving Out” a few weeks ago and both the vocals and the instrumentation were stacked higher than the stage curtain, so sg isn’t alone in its penchant for stracks). If anything, I feel the pique of my own self-imposed distance from the site and its conversation.I was reminded of this sitting in the squalid, construction-ravaged Milwaukee airport Sunday, waiting for my flight home to board. The Perrys cycled through on my iPod, specifically Kyla Rowland’s wonderful little throwback diddy, “Oh That Wonderful Promise,” off the This is the Day project. The song is pleasant enough, but I hadn’t heard it in a while and so had forgotten about the little eight-bar piano introduction. It’s either Stan Whitmire or Jason Webb, but in either case, it kicks off classic boom-chuck stride style that you can just imagine Eva Mae LeFevre hammering out on stage back in the day and sitting in the airport it makes me smile widely with delight. For a moment, it’s as if you can see the stage … four mikes, or maybe just two, a piano off to the side, the scene in my mind is black and white, or maybe it’s in color, but the hues are all washed out, the way photos of myself as a baby in the 70s are when I page through my mother’s old picture albums … and just about the time you’re ready to start shouting over the head of beehive hair in front of your imaginary seat in the middle of this imaginary tent or overheated auditorium somewhere in the heated evening of an excited imagination, just as you’re ready to start waving your paper fan … the one with the Lord’s Supper or that picture of Jesus calming the sea on one side and an advertisement for Blaylock’s Funeral Parlor on the other (or maybe it’s the local electric co-op), something happens to the intro … something happens to this allegedly old-school sg intro. It’s’ near the end of the eight bars, where there’s a flat-seven over three, which is meaningless to read about but is a classic set-up to what can be an even more classic progression in sg that you’d immediately recognize if you heard it …

Except not this time. Instead of classic sg, there’s a little grace note dropped in, a few intentionally slurred notes in the harmony, the rhythm becomes just barely syncopated, and it all combines ot have a loosening effect on the style. There’s a hint of R&B here, some echoes of the blues and black gospel. Just like that, we’re no longer in the stuffy heat of the tent revival. For just a few beats, we’ve been transported to the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir, or a James Cleveland concert. I laugh out loud at this point. The woman next to me shuffles her stale and crumply newspaper, moves away, feigning a cell phone call. Who cares. Let her be skeeved out. This is one of those instances when I get to be right: for all my harping on the inevitable hybridity of southern gospel (in the face of howling protest from the classicists), here’s proof of what I’ve been saying all along, smuggled in under the guise of a noveau-classic quartet number from Kyla Rowland. It’s not like Whitmire or Webb or whoever it may be sits down and says, “I think I’ll throw in a dash of Mahalia Jackson here.” This kind of thing just what happens when studied and careful, attentive and interested musicians listen widely and generously to what’s going on around them, what’s gone on before them, and then return to southern gospel informed by the stylistic contexts of adjacent genres. Instead, they play what seems right, feels natural, sounds appropriate or effective for the moment. And thus can the introduction of a commonplace quartet number morph effortlessly into a wonderful stylistic merger of complementary traditions … and then … in a flash, fall back into line, never (literally) missing a beat. These spots of time are the kind of thing that endears gospel music me (whether I endear myself to gospel music is another thing entirely). And it’s these spots of time that make me come back here, to talk to myself in hopes that someone else will be interested enough to eavesdrop on my publicly private discussion of something that exerts such a shaping force on so many.

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  1. Matt wrote:

    I absolutely love this intro! I’ve never really thought about it so deep, but I love how you really looked into it.

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