A Perfect September Saturday in New York
As has been the practice in recent years, the ISM sponsored a day-long field trip to kick off the new academic year and foster community building among new and returning students. On Saturday, September 15, some eighty ISM students, faculty, fellows, and staff traveled by bus to New York City for a variety of educational experiences centered on the broad theme of “time” and on African-American culture and music. Members of the student council planned the day’s activities and venues, beginning with the Cloisters—site of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval collection in Ft. Tryon Park at the northern tip of Manhattan. Docent guides led tours of collection highlights that illuminated the rhythms of sacred and secular life in the mid to late Middle Ages.
Following a picnic lunch on the Cloisters grounds, we traveled downtown to Harlem for a visit to historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, the first African-American Baptist church in the state of New York, founded in 1808. Assistant Pastor Rev. Dr. Violet D. Lee spoke about the church’s legacy of spiritual and community leadership under such renowned pastors as Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.; his son, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; his successor Rev. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor; and current pastor Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III. Mr. James Davis, Jr., discussed the Church’s worship and musical life, and played brief works on both the Schantz and Hammond organs to showcase its diverse traditions—classical and gospel.
Next, a short walk down Malcolm X Boulevard took us to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—a special research collection of the New York Public Library. After viewing an exhibition of works by photographer Gordon Parks documenting African-American life in the 1940s, we assembled for presentations in the Center’s American Negro Theatre. Two librarians/curators introduced us to some of the Center’s resources in two of its divisions: Moving Image and Recorded Sound; and Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books. Our invited guest speaker, Professor William Banfield of Berklee College of Music, presented a talk on Black American music and the Harlem Renaissance, which provided vital context for the venues and experiences of the afternoon and the evening yet to come.
After traveling farther downtown to the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle—home of Jazz at Lincoln Center—our group dispersed for some free time over the dinner hour. We reconvened at 7:30 for a concert with legendary vocalist Bobby McFerrin and the JALC Orchestra led by trumpeter and artistic director Wynton Marsalis. The program, entitled “My Audio Biography,” featured McFerrin and the orchestra performing more than a dozen songs representing touchstones in the artist’s life and encompassing spirituals, jazz classics, Gershwin tunes, and even a movement from a Beethoven symphony. The day culminated in an unexpected backstage visit with Mr. McFerrin, arranged on our behalf by Professor Banfield.
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