We shall not be moved is top-of-mind when I think back on my teen years in Berkeley, CA. In choir at Martin Luther King Junior High, I learned this hymn turned movement anthem with people from many different zip codes. Our tracked school system offered me few opportunities to interact with people from African-American, Asian American and Latinx backgrounds. Choir was one place that reflected the diversity of the student body, and where we built friendships from joy in music.
Sunday January 17 at 4:30 p.m., the Secret Choir will sing together as best as we can on Zoom. Our meeting will be brief (an hour or less) and we will warm up with some creative writing or drawing before singing a handful of songs that to me represent empathy and respect, such as We Shall Not be Moved.
This social change hymn is borrowed from its Spiritual predecessor "I Shall Not Be Moved,” whose seminal words appear multiple times in the Bible, and even in the 1807 London-published excerpt created to maintain the tyranny of slavery. The "Sl*ve Bible" omitted any reference to freedom, equality, or direct communion with the Divine, such as in Psalm 16:8 I keep the L*rd always before me; because They are at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
"I shall not be moved" was and is sung in steadfast resistance to oppression. While, on the surface, the lyrics appear to support staying in a place or station the hymn can be a call to inner fortitude. "I shall not, I shall not be moved. Like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved."
This Mavis Staples Version brings comfort and hope to me. I also relish this Spiritual edition by the Harmonizing Four. For motivation, I like this Uptempo Praise & Worship track by Kenny Bobien.
As much as singing on Zoom feels like talking through a tin-can phone, it's still great fun! “Thank you so much for hosting Secret Choir online … I was stressed out before and now I feel better.” said one singer after our first Zoom sing last month. “It was so much fun to sing together: I missed this.” said another.
Our next Social Sing will be on January 17, a Sunday, at 4:30 p.m., during the weekend when we remember Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Every year during MLK weekend, radio stations play hymns and songs of resistance from the Civil Rights movement. Music is an integral part of movements for social justice, equality and change across the world, across time and in many cultures. Songs, instrumental music and dances, like the high-stepping South African Toyi-Toyi, performed during anti-apartheid protests, serve as a collective heartbeat of a crowd. Their messages can motivate people marching while communicating goals to outsiders listening.
This winter, Secret Choir will feature songs of social change. We shall mine collective memory for songs to inspire and recharge the spirit. [I’ll send out some social context for these songs via email ahead of time so that when you arrive in our Zoom room all you need to do is sing!]
As the global pandemic continues, it is my hope that songs of social change inspire perseverance to live by the values you hold most dear. The Secret Choir will meet this spring through March 2021, on select Sunday afternoons.
The Secret Choir is a fun singing group and creative community for people of all backgrounds, genders, abilities, ages and body sizes. Through gentle vocal and writing prompts, members sing with ease, access intuitive wisdom, and use creativity as self-care. With increased intuitive and social connection, people in the Secret Choir enhance their well-being through self-compassion and consistent creative practice. Self-doubt and self-consciousness diminish as emotional resilience and contentment help them to thrive in daily life.
I, Elisabeth Swim, started the Secret Choir to have an interfaith, body-inclusive place to sing socially, without pressure to perform. When I see members find their inner voices through gentle writing prompts and connect with others through song, my spirit soars!
Join The Secret Choir HERE
Elisabeth C. Swim
Playful Mindful Music Guide