Gossip, gossip, evil t'ing
Much unhappiness it bring
If you can't say somet'ing nice
Don't talk at all, is my advice
-- Jester Hairston
Every so often, I think back on the once in a lifetime opportunity we had at the Christian College Choral Festival. It's a great tradition, and one that I fear may have died out in recent years. From my first year in college, I looked forward to it every winter, and grieved the year that the weather was too bad for us to go. The festival provided a chance to learn from terrific clinicians and to be exposed to the musical stylings of other schools, including Southwestern Christian College of Terrell, Texas, which I'd never even heard of before that first year, but never again forgot. While the integration of colleges and other schools represents undeniable progress that was denied for far too long, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities developed their own great legacy, and SWCC is just one proof.
Imagine the honor for a pitiful little white girl like me to sing for magnificent musician Jester Hairston and to be selected for a solo under his direction. That year's group choral performance consisted of several of what he still called "Negro spirituals," each of which he'd either written or arranged, titles represented here as they were on the title pages: "Amen," "Lay Yo' Head in De Winduh, Jesus," "Home in Dat Rock," "Elijah Rock," among others. One of the strongest memories is of his teaching us the proper way to perform his classic "Amen," from The Lilies of the Field. (Incidentally, the version on the soundtrack is Mr. Hairston; the inimitable Sidney Poitier freely admits that he lip-synched to Hairston's recording.)
He complained that too often, people begin that rhythmic clapping even during the early verses, when Jesus is just a seemingly unimportant baby or a small child. They clap, too, when tragic events are being told. Jester Hairston firmly maintained that the better way was to let the tension build up during all those early verses, waiting to clap until the line "but he rose on Easter" is reached, and continuing through the final verse about "and he lives forever."
The pièce de résistance was his teaching us a calypso song while explaining about the ancient traditions of "call and response" and "lining out" a hymn: teaching a song line by line and having the learners repeat the line verbatim. My recollection is that this song is of his own authorship, but I'm hoping to be corrected if there is another author; I only ask that you not try to make a case that it is a folk song without authorship, as that is often believed about calypso songs even in cases where it's not true. :)
Note: Wish I could thank the two unknown Danish bloggers whose missives contained the verse I'd forgotten over the years -- I've placed it first because it works there, though I can't guarantee that's the correct order. This song is so catchy that when the rehearsals took a lunch break and went to a Lubbock cafeteria to eat, we all caught ourselves unwittingly singing the song while standing in the cashier's line, provoking a grand applause by the diners at song's end.
Gossip, gossip, evil thing
Much unhappiness it bring
If you can't say something nice
Don't talk at all is my advice
If you talk about somebody
even what you say is true
when it comes back it is double talk, to what it was when it left you
Once I told me friend me secret
And he promise not to tell
Now community and strangers all know me secret very well
Take me wife, now, there's a gossip
What an ear for news has she
Knows a thing or two about everyone in our whole community
If there's one thing 'bout a gossip
Let me tell you this is true
If you tell she 'bout somebody, she tell somebody else about you
Words to live by.