W&M: Soulful or soulless?

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February 24, 2007

1:42 PM

The Virginia Gazette, a local newspaper, features a segment called “The Last Word,” in which whiny members of the community can anonymously vent their concerns. For obvious reasons, the College has been a popular subject lately. “William & Mary now stands for ‘What a Mess,’” someone wrote last week in response to the Sex Workers’ Art Show and the continued Wren Cross controversy.

p. Another angered citizen was inspired to declare, “I would not pay that school one cent for what it is obviously trying to teach. W&M used to be a source of pride for the community. While we are saying goodbye to morals, we may as well say goodbye to our beautiful Williamsburg.” My apologies: the above statement contains enough hyperbole to suffocate a small child or anyone with a tendency to be a “free thinker.” I ought to have given fair warning.

p. Last Saturday, Feb. 17, the University Center hosted an event that went relatively unnoticed by people at this institution, despite being decently publicized and well-attended by other nearby universities. Sam Sadler even mentioned it in one of his e-mails.

p. It was called the Tidewater Gospel Music Festival, and it was enough to dispel the sickening and rampant myth that the College is a valueless place for atheist sex-fiends looking to subvert the good will of upstanding Christian traditionalists whenever possible. Granted, I fall into that last group, but that’s beside the point.
I’ve had the good fortune to attend this concert two out of the past three years, and it only gets better with time.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that very few of our own students — less than 50, not including those who are members of Ebony Expressions — took advantage of the opportunity. Neither, of course, did Gene Nichol. In a desperate bid to woo back his Christian audience, Nichol paused during his busy day to express his disdain for the sex workers, but wouldn’t it have been a better career move to enjoy some gospel music? Instead of alienating his student body — you know, since many of us kind of enjoy sex — our president could have praised the talents of a group that certainly deserves as many compliments as we can muster.

p. The Gospel Music Festival ranks in the top three musical events I’ve heard on this campus. To give you an idea of what this means to me, those other two are The Roots and Wilco, internationally known acts who have visited William and Mary Hall — that is, Kaplan Arena — in the past two years (I’m not expecting My Chemical Romance to join their ranks anytime soon). Enormous gospel choirs from Virginia Commonwealth University, Hampton University and Virginia State University were all in attendance, each equipped with its own three-piece funk band. These were the kind of exemplary student musicians whose attention to dynamics and feel made even the whitest audience member feel like standing and clapping. Their incredible chops put the College’s indie rockers to shame.

p. VCU’s group, The Black Awakening, dressed in classy pink and brown outfits and ornamented their performance with the most soulful interpretative dance I’ve ever seen. How they managed to maintain four-part harmony and stay in sync with the band while pantomiming an earthquake is beyond me, but they did it so elegantly.

p. Of course, for readers of the Virginia Gazette, the icing on the cake is that this was a religious event: these performances were made to praise God. The Rev. Dr. William B. McClain offered sermons and anecdotes between the choirs. His book, “Songs of Zion,” was for sale in the lobby.

p. Perhaps the surly and misinformed “Last Word” writers may want to do some more research before they begin bashing our college. For every remotely controversial event, there are at least ten that even the most right-wing patrons would have trouble deeming “immoral.”

p. The assumption by some members of the Williamsburg community seems to be that it is the duty of a liberal arts institution to teach its students a specific moral code, and to restrict any number of worldviews in favor of one objectively correct lifestyle. Should this assumption take hold in our curriculum or in our extracurricular events, it will mean the death of a truly well-rounded education.

p. Gazette readers — assuming they dirty their hands with this filthy, youth-run Flat Hat — may find it interesting that our English department has books like “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “Ulysses” on its syllabi. These books are brimming with sexual intercourse and other deplorable smut and, what’s more, they’re acclaimed as world-class literature. Students can read them in the Wren Chapel whenever they’d like. Isn’t that appalling? Phone your congressman immediately.

p. With any luck, next year’s gospel festival will get far more attendance from students at this school and people who live around Williamsburg. It is an event that is at once entertaining, informative and welcoming; moreover, it appeases those who mistakenly believe that our school is headed for the gutter whenever it attempts to show its students what goes on out there in the “real world.” For the last song of the night, all of the choirs took to the stage and performed together with the joyful noise that characterizes soul music. As they worshipped, I looked around the U.C. Tidewater and noticed that there wasn’t a Christian symbol in sight. I never heard a complaint — but perhaps the Gazette will print one next week.

p. __Dan Piepenbring, a junior at the College, is a Staff Columnist. His columns appear every Friday.__

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