Friday, July 8, 2011

Music lesson with Andre

And again. This morning three different places. And this morning, 45 minutes. It’s 92 degrees, I’m mopping sweating, chasing the flies away as I clean. Anger and frustration rising. Finally get Project Reachout on the phone. A night team has visited hb. He’s got no interest in cooperating, sharing informtion. They agree:  next step can only be the police.
Quiet and alone in the church. Until a lean white guy, all in white, with a black cap walks in.  They told me you help people get back on their feet here, he says.  Well, who did? I ask. Catholic church about ten blocks down, he says. I doubt that, I think to myself.  But I listen to his story anyways.
Just out of prison. Some kind of domestic thing. Had been on his way to being a cop. Did three years on a plea. Living with his brother. Can’t find a job.  Wants a place to live. A typewriter. (He likes to write) A new bike. (He likes to ride) Begins to sound like a Christmas list. 
Tell him we’re a small church with little money. He asks can he work for money? We’re a small church with little money.  Call Marc Greenberg of the Interfaith Assembly. We’ve started a new employment readiness program for formerly incarcerated persons. I know Marc is busy working on a grant proposal for the Presbyteran Hunger Fund. But maybe he’ll call back. Then I call Annie Rawlings, formerly of the Presbytery staff.  One of the founders of our new PHEWA Criminal Justice Network. She has good information on  a multi service place. In Long Isand City.
I share all this information with Joe. He asks for directions to the restroom. When he returns, he’s been wandering around, looking in different tooms. This is a remarkable place with many memorable items, he says, I like remarkable places. I like memorable items. Can I have some things? Like our old books of hand written records? No. Our old communion ware? No. I lead him through the sanctuary. I’d like a memento, he says, to remember being here, reaching for our cross. Uh, no. We may be small, but we’re still a working church. Well, what about a hand drum? No.( Sigh.) Tell you what, come back tomorrow when the dumpster is here. You’re welcome to anything being thrown out. And I usher him out, thinking there may be more than one issue at work here.
Andre shows up to prepare  for his lesson with Caleb. When Caleb arrives, it’s time for a little music history.  Via Youtube. Andre starts with John the Revelator, by Son House. From there it’s Soul of a Man by Blind Willie Johnson. Then Bruce Cockburn’s cover. I remember Andre singing that at West-Park accompanying himself on a washboard. But he thniks it was John the Revelator. 
ThenVera Hall and Wild Ox Moan. Then I take them to my favorite New Orleans singer Meschiya Lake singing Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.  Andre says, you like that roots music, don’t you? And then our own member, Jack Sheedy and Gambler’s Blues.  And Libba Cotton singing Shake Sugaree. I remember hearing Danny Kalb sing that late on an afternoon, Everything I had is done and gone, that line always kills me. I think I heard my grandma sing that, says Caleb.
I have to show him Amanda’s video of our worship service on the steps last August. Andre jazz chanting the psalm. We’ve come a long way since then, Andre says, we couldn’t even be inside. 

And to come closer to where Caleb feels himself drawn musically, Andre finishes with Hero and Leander by Vanjah Boika. 
I leave for dinner. Come back hours later. A young soprano, Chanae, has joined them. I’m amazed watching Andre work as a teacher. Breaking down, deconstructing pieces. How Gershwin can be modern complex and yet street authentic simultaneously. And then listen to them working on Tonight, same with Bernstein. Gershwin and Bernstein, the quintessential New York composers. I’d love the theological/eclesiatical version of that. 
Andre rcommends that Caleb read the Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse. The struggle of every African-American moving into classical realm to stay connected to roots. Caleb and Chanae’s voices entwine in harmony. At the end of the lesson, Caleb asks Andre if he would continue to work with him and Andre agrees. He is a great teacher. I tell Caleb and Chantae that their voices have now become part of the building. 
Out on the steps, hb is asleep. I tell him he’ll have to move. That I don’t have time to be cleaning up crap every morning. He says why woudl I mess where I lay my head? I say, you don’t, it’s over there. He says it’s someone else. I say I don’t see nobody else. I point to the broken St. Ides bottle on the sidewalk. He responds, Someone else did that. You see me, you bust me, you don’t, you can’t. So this place is a mess tomorro morning, I say, I call the police next time I see you. That’s it. And I walk up the street wondering if I should have called  just then. And what I’ll find in the morning. 

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