My dear OIGC family,
It’s hard to believe that my time as intern and administrative assistant with the organization is coming to a close. This summer felt too short to accomplish all of the projects I had planned for myself and to deepen the friendships with choir family members that I hoped to forge. Despite this, I like to think that I was able to establish myself as a devoted member of the organization during my time in the office. I certainly hope to continue my professional relationship with OIGC in addition to my deeply personal one.
As I reflect on my past few months at OIGC, what sticks out for me are my enjoyment of the work, my appreciation for the people, and my commitment to the mission and vision of the organization. I genuinely liked the work I did and felt well-suited to it. I see years of organizational work and data entry in my future, for sure. I am an organized person by nature, and it was a wonderful feeling to work in a place where my skills were put to good use and at the same time honed. I also really enjoyed the human aspect of the work; the fact that I worked closely with a tight-knit group of other people every day and spent a considerable amount of time doing hands-on work with dozens of singers meant that I got to see the effects of my work in terms of human impact. If I were working somewhere else, it’s very likely that I would never get to meet the people behind the spreadsheets I filled out—but that is never the case with OIGC. Human connection keeps me motivated in my work, and I recognize the same to be true for Briget, Terrance, and the rest of the OIGC staff. They would not do what they do if it were not for you. OIGC is about so many things, chief among them being family. That part of OIGC’s mission—to unite people from all backgrounds by uplifting one culture’s musical tradition—is what makes me so proud to have worked here.
While the majority of my work with OIGC was hands-on organization and office work, I was also able to undertake some independent research on my own time. My goal was mainly to educate myself about the historical context of black gospel music. I feel that it’s extremely important to know everything you can about the historical moment surrounding the music you perform, or even casually listens to. Taking that extra step can increase your enjoyment of the music, and possibly introduce you to other artists making music in a similar vein. It can happen that doing so alerts you to ethical concerns about an artist; I’ve had to part ways with more than a couple once-favorite bands that way, but it’s worth the loss to be listening to music ethically and consciously. Learning more about black gospel music has been incredibly educational for me and will inform the way I interact with it in the future. Interestingly, what seemed at first like the smallest details became the most valuable to my learning. For instance, the fact that black slaves were not permitted by slave masters to dance in church resulted in the side-to-side swaying and shuffling that are standard moves for gospel choirs like OIGC today made a deep impression on me. It was impactful for me to realize that restrictions placed on black slaves centuries ago affect the choir’s performance practice today. I study performance practice (albeit in a totally different context) back at my college, so it was exciting for me to apply the skills I had previously learned to this research project.
The aspect of my research that had the greatest impact on me personally was all that I learned about the women of gospel music whom I was ashamed to have never heard of before. Among them are key figures like Mahalia Jackson and Mattie Moss Clark and her daughters the Clark Sisters. The one heroine of gospel music who became the special focus of my research was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Not only was she a multitalented gospel performer, she also pioneered the distinctive plucking style on the electric guitar that led the eventual development of rock and roll music. She had the respect and admiration of the better-known rock stars Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, and was also an out bisexual woman of color in the 1960s. All of this was more than enough to cause me to look up to her as an important figure in American music history, and to drive me to share her story with anyone who might not know about her. I created a handout on her life and work as one of my independent projects, which should hopefully be accessible soon. It is interesting to think about her life as someone who embodies the intersection of blackness and queerness, secular and spiritual life, while the choir casts its eyes towards the Lavender Pen Tour. I see the tour as a merger of secular and faithful organizations, where the causes of civil rights for people of color and LGBTQ people are joined together in song and activism. And my research into the details of the tour has only revealed more points of intersection between these groups of people and their appeals to society’s humanity.
While I know that I will carry so much with me from my experiences at OIGC, some of the most important things for me are the skills I will use in my professional life. Working in the office this summer, I learned a lot about professional communication skills, both oral and written. I learned how to operate various types of office software that will no doubt be used in other positions I’ll hold in the future. With experience, I became comfortable handling money and making sure that funds flowed through the organization quickly and smoothly. The list could go on, but suffice it to say that I consider my time at OIGC to be an important stepping stone on the path to future careers.
Honestly, my only wish is that I could have stayed longer, learning new skills and spending more time getting to know individual members of this big, beautiful family. It would have also been nice to bring more of my music performance skills to the fore; it looked like so much fun to be singing onstage from my spot in the audience. I always wish for more singing in my life, and I guess I’ll just have to come back soon to sing with OICC for another season. For now, though, take this heartfelt goodbye from me to all of you.
(image of Sister Rosetta Tharpe courtesy of PBS Online, url: http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/rock-and-roll-rosetta-tharpe/)