Director of Music Vivian Montgomery’s Music Notes are published in the weekly order of service and here at follen.org.
Music Notes for November 24:
Some of today’s music needs no introduction, especially to those who’ve heard Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Thanksgiving Anthem” sung each year by Follen’s choirs and alums for at least two decades. The Children’s Choir song, Kuimba Asante, starts with Swahili but then travels through expressions of thanks in many languages. However, perhaps the song that needs the most explanation is the most familiar, the boisterous hymn “We’re Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table.” In this month focused on the theme of Abundance, we can’t help but look into the negative space around our prosperity and comfort, that occupied by need, poverty, and, as represented in this song, exclusion. I’ve recently learned that “Welcome Table” was one of several encoded songs sung by the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir, directed by Alberta Williams King with a young MLK as a member, at the gala events marking the release of the movie “Gone With The Wind” in Atlanta in 1939. While Hattie McDaniel (who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role of Mammy) and other black actors in the film were not invited to any of the three days of events, the choir was asked to sing, dressed in slave garb, on the steps of the venue where a ball celebrating the confederacy was taking place. Their songs had strong messages about what was still lacking in their lives and in society at large, and “Welcome Table” speaks transparently to the hope that, sometime in the future, they would be seated at that table of abundance, feasting on milk and honey. While the Ebenezer choir was certainly expressing defiance in the face of humiliation and oppression, what’s not clear is whether their performance of the song included a traditional verse not found in our hymnal: “I’m gonna tell God how you treat me, I’m gonna tell God how you treat me one of these days, hallelujah.”