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The 1989 ACDA Convention and a gift from Jester Hairston

The 1989 ACDA Convention and a gift from Jester Hairston
 
When Scott Dorsey presented his baseball card saluting Jester Hariston, our famous choral major leaguer, I was reminded of how this fine American Citizen/musician/actor, gave his musical spirit to all of us.   
 
While teaching in Omaha, Nebraska, Mr. Hairston came and directed the All City High School Choir for our annual All City Festival.  For the finale, a crowd of about 10,000 parents and friends heard four instrumental groups and three festival choral ensembles embrace his famous “Amen”.  The venue was large, and even though he was on a very raised podium, one almost had to have binoculars to see his small stature.  Of course the audience applauded with great enthusiasm at the conclusion.
 
Come with me now to Louisville, Kentucky for the next part of this short composition.  It was one of the first times that concerts were given twice because as our conventions were growing in attendance.  About 3000 of us gathered in the concert hall.  We were all there to honor this musical giant at the 1989 National ACDA Convention.  We were all given a copy of  “Amen”.  Jester come out on the stage and he encouraged us to sing.
 
We had reached the end of the second verse and all of these choral directors were getting into the piece with invigorating spirituality, and religious identity.   Suddenly Jester, waving his arms wildly,
brought us to a stop!  He addressed the gathering saying, “This audience must be made up of a lot of white folks.  You are all clapping on 1 and 3.  Now let me show you.  He stomped his foot on 1 and clapped on 2 and 4 saying….now that’s how we do it”.  After a great laugh we all stood and were guided to a powerful and meaningful conclusion of this greatly loved spiritual.
 
Now, prepare yourselves for what occurred at the end of this convention.  My wife and I were at the Airport cleaning up some loose ends of running our record booth for Collegium USA and John Rutter.  I looked to my right and saw Jester Hairston being pushed in a wheelchair, perhaps by a relative.  I rushed over, introduced myself as a choral director from Omaha and asked if he remembered coming to our big barn (that’s what we use to call the civic auditorium) to direct our All City Music Festival.  He said he did and I thanked him too for everything he had done for all of us who direct choirs and wished him well.   He thanked me and went on to meet his plane.
 
My wife and I finished our business and proceeded to our gate of departure and there was Jester, in his wheelchair, surrounded by fifteen or so young teenagers and he was signing autographs.   These young Americans saw a TV actor, to them this was Rolly Forbes, the high spirited and lively senior citizen, who often acted as a voice of reason on the show “Amen”.
 
After a while, we all boarded the plane to Chicago.   It was foggy in Chicago and we were delayed for weather reasons.   Now you have to realize that the plane was full of choral loving people and a high percentage of us on the plane were choral directors.  While we waiting we heard, quietly at first, a few bars of the song “Amen”.
Slowly we all joined the song.  After three choruses of singing “Amen” one of the passengers hushed the crowd.  Why?  Well, Jester Hairston, seated in coach with us, began to sing the solo lines, then we would join in the refrain.  We sang, and sang dropping to a pianissimo for Jester’s solo part.   
 
By this time the whole crew of this UAL flight, including the pilots came to the area where Jester Hairston was located to listen to this famous traveler who was on their flight.  The sound grew and grew as we reached the climax….“and He Rose on Easter….Amen, Amen, Amen!”
 
Right after the song the whole plane load gave a great roar of approval and the pilot gave a shout and said…“There’s not going to be any trouble on this flight, Let’s Go to Chicago.”
 
And we all said, “AMEN!!!”  Isn’t this what our job is about?
 
Stan Schmidt, Producer/Host
Going Beyond Words
A Weekly Choral show on KVNO.ORG
Sunday’s at Noon Central Time.
on January 8, 2016 1:52pm
Jester Hairston gave similar encouragement at ACDA National Convention in Nashville in early '80s.
I had some trepidation about performing "spirituals" from teaching in a famous high school in Indianapolis which had a sizable percentage of black students who we not getting behind, Ezekial Saw The Wheel.
Now, mind you, this was a choir which had performed the Verdi Requiem the year before and would perform, Symphony of Psalms and Bach's St John Passion.
They we not buying into a white conductor leading them through a Negro Spiritual eventhough it had probably was written for a white audience. Young and dumb, I relented and we got out Stravinsky.
The encouragement given to the largely white audience--just do it!
This was the same convention where Robert Shaw gave his "Crystal Christ-a-rama" speech. Not without contoversy! S
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