I had no idea what to expect when I went to see God’s Trombones last Sunday, March 1, at the Bethany Baptist Church in Syracuse. Billed as a musical celebration of “Seven Negro Sermons in Poetical Verse,” it turned out to be quite an experience for me. It was not like any dramatic presentation I have seen recently, in terms of the depth and potency of the message delivered; range of artistic talent on display; scope and beauty of the set; and the powerful rendition of roles played by the various actors, as well as the overall production. The score was another powerful element, and gave it a unique flava, with its combination of African drumming song and dance, and traditional church music.
Presented in several segments, the event featured narrators who provided an overview of what was to follow. Other actors played roles, and characters, based on biblical stories we all know only too well. The first segment was “THE CREATION,” and the narrator was none other than Charles Anderson. Quite well-known in the city of Syracuse, Charles Anderson has been celebrated for his accomplishments in the political arena, and as an educator. I’ve know him since back in the days when he was a City Councilor, and one of the first African-Americans to have been elected to that office. I covered and wrote about his campaigns, and other happenings, in our African-American media at that time. I didn’t know acting was one of his strong suits.
Charles Anderson’s performance was riveting. Rendering the story of “THE CREATION” in ‘poetic verse,’ he transformed it into a soulful performance, which had been as entertaining as it was enlightening. Like a seasoned pro, he seemed to know precisely what to do with the cadences in his voice, alternating from high to low pitches almost effortlessly. His performance was nothing short of brilliant. Resplendent in his African gown (an agbada as it is known in Africa), he’d projected the image of authority, and a majestic profile which reminded me of African royalty back home.
The other segments had been “THE PRODIGAL SON,” narrated by Dexter McKinney; “GO DOWN DEATH- A FUNERAL SERMON,” narrated by Debra Richardson and Bianca Ellis; “NOAH BUILT THE ARK,” narrated by Simone Owens, Bertha Adams, and Bill Lee; “THE CRUCIFIXION,” narrated by H. Bernard Alex; “LET MY PEOPLE GO,” narrated by Mark Harris, and Simone Owens; and “JUDGEMENT DAY,” narrated by Samuel Rowser.
It was an amazing production, which seemed to highlight individual artists, as well as group performances. And, the narration played a key role in setting the tone, and rhythm, for each segment. H. Bernard Alex’s theatrical showmanship was a standout. And, his masterful rendition had not gone unnoticed by the audience. The cheers from the audience were right on cue.
The music had been in a class by itself. It combined traditional church music with African drumming, song and dance, and seemed to work flawlessly. It was surreal almost; taking me back to a world I had left several years ago, and have missed quite a bit lately. How a church choir and an African drummer could make such beautiful music together was a totally new experience for me. I sat back and listened to the jungle sounds, and rhythms, pulsating from the drums, and the gyrations of the actors playing out their various dramatic roles. If anything shows how far we have come as a people, to me it is the fact that traditional African music can be played, and fused with traditional church music, in such a setting, and be enjoyed by the sophisticated people that were in the audience.
I think the director of the production, Jackie Warren-Moore, and the others who acted in various capacities to put the production together, had done a great job in selecting the cast. It was quite evident to those of us who have lived in Syracuse for a long period, that the cast had been made up of a number of well-known individuals in the community, as well as other community members who may not have been so well-known. Some of them have currently been in public life and are holding down public office; others, such as Charles Anderson, have not been active in politics, but are still involved in various community-based activities and projects.
And, that, to me, is what a community-based production should really be about. This is as community-based as a production can get as far as I am concerned. What is a more community-based production than one which features well-known, retired and current, office-holding politicians, educators, teachers, parents, clergy, and ordinary people, in addition to children?
Seeing Eleanor Russell, and others, in action reminded me of the key role she played, along with Jackie Warren-Moore and others in the audience and cast, in creating and fostering a thriving artistic and theatrical spirit in the Syracuse African-American community.
Overall, “GOD’S Trombones,” to me, was a brilliant production, which succeeded in using modern technology, and set design, to create an engaging and realistic ambiance. And, the cheers from the audience were certainly an indication that they’d loved every minute of the production, as much as I had.