If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still with us he would have marked his 89th birthday last week. In all likelihood he would have had a few things to say about the current state of sociopolitical affairs in the United States, and probably about the ongoing troubles in this part of the world too.
Some of King’s sorely needed peacemongering ethos will come across in Jerusalem this week with a US State Department-supported visit by the Colorado-based More than Music troupe. This morning (11:30 a.m.) eight members of the group will present the At the Table with Dr. King show for over 600 high school students at the Leyada (Hebrew University High) School, followed by a 5 p.m. workshop for educators, facilitators and mediators at the American Center on Keren Hayesod Street. The group’s US Embassy-backed whistle stop foray continues tomorrow morning with another workshop, for high school students, at the American Center, followed by shows in Beersheba, Nazareth Illit and Kfar Sava, on January 23, 24 and 25 respectively. There will also be workshops for teachers, and teachers in training at Achva College, Arugot at 3:30 p.m. on January 23, 3:30 p.m., and at Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba at 3 p.m. on January 25.
At the Table with Dr. King is a multidisciplinary act designed to convey to people of all ages and, in particular, school students, knowledge about the American Civil Rights movement and the lessons of equality and respect promulgated by King in the 1950s and 1960s, until his assassination in 1968. This April 4 will be the 50th anniversary of his death. The performance employs a wide range of formats and artistic idioms, including slam poetry, archival footage of King himself, and a musical idiom stretch that takes in gospel, blues and folk numbers.
The performance (in English) is not just about providing audiences with an hour-long rip-roaring interlude in their regular daily agenda. It comes from the get up and shake a leg-inducing sector of the entertainment domain, with the accent very much on leaving the audience with a song in their heart and food for thought.
At the Table with Dr. King burst into edifying life in Aurora, Colorado in 2003. Dave LeMieux, who will head the group here, was the principal driving force behind the initiative.
“It started as a collaboration between Colorado Community Church and the city of Aurora,” explains Kaitlin McCarthy, who doubles as the behind-the-scenes production coordinator, and one of the onstage keyboardists. “The city went to the church and said we’d like to have some kind of celebration for Dr. King Day but we’d like to do something different. Could you host the celebration and come up with a new idea,” McCarthy continues.
LeMieux was in the right place at the right time to help move the welcome initiative right along.
“Our leader, Dave, was working at the church at the time, and he and a couple of other staff members looked into Dr. King’s history and ran across his ‘Knock at Midnight’ speech [from 1967]. So they built the show around that, and that was in partnership with the city for three years.”
The endeavor took a more educational turn when the show was adapted for presentation to school students of various ages.
“We did it locally a little bit, and then started touring,” says McCarthy. “That was in January 2011.”
The troupe well and truly hit the road.
“I was just adding it up, and we did performance number 285 today,” she notes proudly. That impressive total takes in shows all around the US, as well as two previous offshore slots, in India and Dubai.
Touring, one would have thought, entails adapting the instructive vehicle to different sectors of the public, but McCarthy says the show is a flexible offering that suits one and all.
“The message is surprisingly transcendent of age. We might speak a little differently to adults compared with school students, but the message of ‘you have a call to serve others’ is community focused and applies to all of us, whether we’re 10 or 70.”
Presumably not everyone who comes to the show has the required informational backdrop. McCarthy says that is catered for.
“We take people on a journey through the [Civil Rights] movement. We are giving people context as to what happened in the Civil Rights movement, starting with Dr. King’s moment of calling. We start with an audio of him speaking about that moment.”
With the current state of affairs in political circles in Washington, DC, and recent reports of certain controversial comments made by US President Donald Trump, spreading King’s all-embracing message appears to be particularly pertinent right now. McCarthy prefers to stick to a more wholesome tack, and get King’s word across.
“I think there is almost no situation in which this is not an important message. We each have a job to do, and a role to play and, as a society, no one has ever gotten anywhere by sticking their head in the sand. Dr. King talked about the love of community. I think there is always a great need for that.”
The More than Music’s team for this week’s visit takes in eight musicians and a soundman, and promises to provide Israelis of all ethnic and religious stripes with some heartwarming entertainment. Kaitlin says she and the rest of the gang are also hoping to slot in a couple of numbers in Hebrew and Arabic in an effort to communicate in as local-user-friendly a manner as possible.
“We are humbled to do this, and we are excited we are going to meet all these people in Israel,” says Kaitlin. “It is very easy to think of the world as kind of us and them. That is vastly oversimplifying. When you meet people it changes your perspective, and we are looking forward to being exposed to a different way of life.”
There should be benefits for all on offer this week.
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