On January 8, Dr. Eileen Guenther presented a workshop (via Zoom) on spirituals. More information, along with a recording of the workshop, can be found below. 

This presentation is based on Eileen Guenther’s deeply-researched book tracing the heart of the Spiritual and using this music to tell the compelling and soul-crushing story of slavery in the United States. This book, In Their Own Words: Slave Life and the Power of Spirituals, has received overwhelmingly enthusiastic reviews. It was recently described in a review in Pastoral Music by M. Roger Holland III, director of The Spirituals Project at the University of Denver, as “the most comprehensive work done on the ‘Negro spiritual’ to date’. In this book the music forms the foundation for exploring the lives of slaves through “their own words” as they struggled with “the vital human issues of life and death, hope and despair, slavery and freedom.”

In this program, Spirituals are combined with two other primary sources: narratives written by those enslaved and the words of interviews given by former slaves in the 1930s. The program also offers an overview of some of the forty subjects found in the Spirituals, subjects revealing issues integral to the culture of slavery ranging from family, labor, escape, and punishment, to faith, comfort, hope, and freedom — "always freedom." 

Typical responses to this program are: “I have sung this music all my life and I never knew that,” and “It was profoundly and deeply moving.” There are significant gaps in the historic and cultural education of many Americans; the music and the texts of this presentation not only shine a light on the events of the past, but also serve as a means of hope and reconciliation in present-day circumstances.

The “virtual” presentation will include recorded examples of the primary genres of Spirituals a, as well as discussion of performance practice and question: “Cultural Appropriation: Who is Entitled to Sing Spirituals.”

Eileen Guenther, Professor of Church Music Emerita at Wesley Theological Seminary, holds bachelor’s degrees from the University of Kansas and graduate degrees from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. A noted author, church musician, and organ recitalist, Dr. Guenther has written two critically acclaimed books: Rivals or a Team: Clergy-Musician Relationships in the 21st Century and In Their Own Words: Slave Life and the Power of Spirituals.  She has a passion for the power of the Spiritual and has led over one hundred presentations on In Their Own Words with choirs, soloists and congregations from Atlanta, GA to Ashland Oregon. The most common response has been:  “I have sung these Spirituals all my life and I never knew that."