Lift Every Voice

A group of children sing together
From the book Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations by Kelly Starling Lyons and Illustrated by Keith Mallett.

I have been debating this whole week what, exactly, is my role in the present discourse happening here in the United States. Specifically, I’ve been asking myself what role does this blog play. What I envisioned originally for this space will be better served, for the time being, by instead elevating the Black Voices out there who have been marginalized for far too long. All the great hymns I long to share with you will still be around in a few weeks and months.

I’ve been playing, singing, and praying the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing for the last few weeks, but, ultimately, although I might get something out of it (and offer it genuinely to God), I just didn’t feel comfortable potentially introducing this hymn to someone for the first time. I don’t have the history or experience, and although I love my neighbor and seek to do what is right, I will never fully understand what it means to be Black in the USA. So, although this is a teaching blog, specifically a voice/music teaching blog, I thought today would be better used for connecting and deepening our human bonds. Which, I think, is one of the highest forms of worship and thanks we can give to God.

I stumbled upon the end of The Washington National Cathedral’s June 7th worship service after my own church’s worship, in the middle of their final hymn, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. I share it now with you because it was so moving to me.

The end of worship at the Washington National Cathedral, on June 7th, 2020, less than two weeks after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, USA and protests had started around the country.

For white parents like myself, talking about race with our children is not easy but it is necessary and it is a calling that we as Christians need to feel. I hope this post gives you some ‘ins’ for that conversation at a variety of comfort and age levels. Here are some ways to go deeper:

  • Read more about this hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing, including its context and contributors (any age)
  • Use this page of activities relating to the book image from the top of this post. (preschool-elementary ages)
  • This recording of an arrangement of our hymn this week. (any age)
  • Read some Howard Thurman. You can read various selections of his book Meditations of the Heart on Google Books, and then contact an independent Black-Owned bookstore to order your own copy ;-). Although I can’t link to it directly, I particularly connect with pages 55-56, 31. Let us Pray. (Thurman is dense, so my recommendation is based on it being difficult for younger ages to wade through, ages 12-up)
  • Read selections from Exodus. Like this one, from (very readable) The Message. (any age, and a great way to discuss the life, love, and freedom God desires for all people)
  • Learn to sing this hymn! Here’s the sheet music, and there are many many more recordings out there to help you learn the melody. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean the song isn’t for me (or you, if you’re white), too. Our collective freedom and wholeness is bound up in one another’s freedom. But in this knowledge, we know some people are historically and systematically oppressed, and so learning and remembering the context for that is important if we are to truly celebrate the words of this hymn and truly Lift EVERY voice in praise of God.
  • Book recommendations for kids! Way more comprehensive than I could ever hope to put together myself!

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