Besides teaching music full time for over 30 years at an inner Detroit school with predominantly black students and directing the Serbian Orthodox Ravanica choir of 100 singers for nearly 20 years, my mother also held musical gatherings in our home when The Mother Singers — a local community group of women — would come mid-week for an evening of sharing sacred songs.
Whenever the Mother Singers jammed into our tiny living room, us kids were sent upstairs to our bedrooms. Needless to say, my sister, younger brother and I would sit at the top of the stairs and listen. Sort of like we were in some choir loft or up in the belfry peering down.
I am certain that by my mother inviting strangers — strangers, at least, to me — into our home, the groundwork for my inclination to view my present home as open to anyone, including the uninvited guest, was laid down.
The profound affect this had on me as a child, reverberates still. I do not view my home as sacrosanct in the sense that only close friends and other family members can frequent it. As a kid, witnessing the camaraderie of people singing together in my home — even if I couldn’t directly participate — instilled in my little brain the developing social consciousness of the okayness of strangers coming together to sing sacred songs — under the leadership of a director/teacher — within the “privacy” of a home, not necessarily the more open walled community hall, church, school or back-room in a hotel pub.
This past weekend in the sanctity of my home, 21 of us were treated to a workshop of sacred song led by three women: Maggy Agrey with chants derived from Sanskrit, Helen Thompson with Gregorian chants and Ali Hart with her own folk songs.
Finally, after more than 60 years, I was able to sit with the adults and gaze up into their song.
Today, four days after the event, the walls are still humming.
The sting in the tail in this story is that when I goggled the Serbian Ravanica choir’s archives, there was zero mention of my mother’s tenure as director from 1931 till 1950. Just an innocent mistake? I would hope so. But she did live in a very patriarchal, tribal world where women were invisible.