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Day One – Singing Negro Spirituals

We arrived in Barcelona at around 10am and headed over to Barceloneta.  I leave the meal details to Tim who has planned this trip around meals and visits to the markets.

My friend Anna, one of my best friends from my study abroad year in Germany, took the day off to hang out with us.  It was so good seeing her and just picking up where we left off four years ago, when I last saw her.  She lives in a really charming neighborhood, and on our way there, we passed many a small restaurants, where mostly older men meet over coffee or  beer.

We had a lazy afternoon saving all our energy for the night’s main activity.  We made our way to a church around Placa de Espanya, where we were supposed to join Anna’s choir practice.  Yes, CHOIR.  GOSPEL choir, to be more precise.  A few months ago, Anna joined Barcelona’s unofficial Gospel Choir, which has become famous for singing at one of the city’s main subway stations.  Since Anna admitted that there were really no black people in the choir nor did any of the singers had to audition to participate, I figured Tim and I would be in good company, seeing that both of us are terrible singers.

As soon as we arrived, Anna went up to one of the choir organizers, who checked off her name.  And then, the organizer asked Tim and I for our names.  This was getting too “official” for me.

We were forewarned that the first hour was playing games, and that night promised some pretty cheesy activities which turned out to be quite alright.  First there was marching right, left, forwards and backwards, according to what the choir director yelled out.  Here, Diesel got really confused because everything was in Catalan.  By sheer luck, , one of the choir organizers, Chingy (for unknown reasons, she never revealed her real name), the only other Asian girl besides me, took Diesel under her wing (and let me point out here that Chingy  is only 17) and helped him through the game.

Then we partnered up with a random person and talked about what we ate the day before, last Sunday and last Wed.  My partner was an excited middle-aged man, who seemed very nice.  As soon as he found out we were from the States, his face lit up and he described his month-long trip to the U.S., where the word “fantastic” was lavishly used.  In great detail, he recounted his adventures in New “Jork,” “California, Grand Canyon and Tennessee.  TENNESSEE?  “What were you doing in the South?,” I asked, in utter confusion.  Turns out he thinks country music is “faaantastic” and he also enjoys dancing to country music.  Go figure.

The games hour went by pretty fast, and finally we all stood in a semi-circle ready to sing some Gospel.  The choir organizers went over the few verses of the song in English, first bases, then altos, then sopranos.  I was shocked.  These people were actually good!  What the heck was I doing there?  I decided I would just lip-sync, which is what I did for the rest of the night.  After a few rounds of practice, we were ready to give it a go, for real.  Everybody was singing with such passion, raising their hands to the heavens, contorting their faces into exaggerrated expressions and dancing.  I looked over across the hall, where Diesel was standing with the rest of the bases, and there he was:  Singing Gospel in Spanish!  Diesel, who refused to go to church even after his poor mom asked him to.  All animated, clapping his hands even, and singing the words:  “Hoy el Senor te llamo, y tu nombre pronuncio.”  The song couldn’t be more religious:  “Today the Lord called you, and He pronounced your name.”  Hallelluiah, for Diesel was filled with the Spirit. And as he walked around, totally uncoordinated trying to clap and do the two-step across the hall, we finally met in the middle of the joyous crowd.  It was then that he whispered in my ear in slight despair:  “I have no idea what I’m singing.”  It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen him do.

With the 50 something choir members all excited, it was time to move on to the next song.   But before that, the choir director took over the stage and had a few of the younger people recite a poem in Spanish.  It all sounded very familiar, until I realized that they were reciting Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  And off he went, talking about equality and hope and dream and how on Nov 4th, America finally elected a black president.  Tim and I knew that that all of Europe was following our election pretty closely, supporting Obama.  I even had a few of my European friends actually congratulate me on Obama’s win.  But to have the priest give a mini sermon about how the election brought hope to everybody was quite striking.

Anyhow, with that little intro, the choir organizers helped everybody learn the lyrics to the next song.  “No more action black.”  What were they saying???  That just didn’t make any sense to either Tim nor me.  Nor anybody else for that matter, because it became very obvious that a lot of the Spaniards/Catalans that were there didn’t even understand English all that well, especially the older crowd, which made up for their lack of understanding with more dancing and louder singing.  Tim and I both had to look this up and found that there was a bit of a vowel problem and the words were actually “No more AUCTION BLOCK,” which is a negro spiritual, as explained here.

The rest of choir practice was spent practicing this song, followed by a very heated discussion session about how expressive one should be when singing this song.  We were told to close our eyes, raise our hands to the skies, clench our fists, hold other people’s hands and dance to communicate the message of the song, but apparently not everybody agreed with the exaggerated theatrics, so both sides presented their reasons for why one should do that or not, which didn’t go anywhere, really.

Overall, the whole thing was pretty entertaining if not a bit embarrassing at times, when the choir people would hold my hand and tell me how I should sing louder or dance more enthusiastically.

Here’s some footage of choir practice.  Unfortunately it was too dark, but you will notice that the singers are actually very good:


3 Responses

  1. oh my gosh! I have tears in my eyes. kelly your description is hilarious! I hope you guys are having fun in Spain. I need to plan a trip back there sometime soon. Michael and my niece is living in Madrid for the next two years. A good excuse to go back. I will have to try out the gospel singing. sounds like an adventure! surreal.

  2. Hilarious! You guys are real troopers – I would have felt like such an ass! 🙂
    Guess I’m leaning towards being agnostic myself – can not fathom singing gospel songs. But I would, if it was this much fun 😉

  3. I LOVES it! HAHA~

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