Hammond & Soul (English)

Version française (en cours)

An original Hammond Organ. See footnote 1.

Hammond Organ [1] was the title of a concert on July 26, 2017, given at Lasalle, in the South of France, the neighboring village near Chateau de Malerargues. The concert was organized by the United Protestant Church of the Val de Salindrenque.

We are in Protestant country and the village of Lasalle (barely over 1000 inhabitants – in Winter!) must have over ten Protestant temples lined up along its single two-miles long street, all of different confessions. The subtitle of the concert says: From the psalms to Negro-spirituals and to XXth century Gospel, with the Hammond organ and organ player JP Delrieu. 1517 – 2017 : 500 YEARS of influences in the evolution of music in the world [2]. PRESENTATION.

Forewords

Written before the concert. Afterwords below

James Hillman once said to me: “It is important to be Protestant once a week”. He was Jewish, and I was (am?) Catholic (we are talking culture here, not religion.) If there is one title that James Hillman absolutely deserved, certainly in our times, it is that of being “The King of Soul” (yes, up there with Salomon Burke and his own Hammond). In fact in an editorial of an issue of Hillman’s Spring – A Journal of Archetype and Culture, the then acting editor, Charles Boer, at his imp-pertinent best, wrote that James Hillman should have the copyright on the word soul[3]! He was addressing, obviously, white American high culture and psychotherapeutic circles[4], because by then the word SOUL had taken over black American and world popular culture. It was African-Americans who brought back the word SOUL, causing the revolution we all know, in music, in singing – and in musical theology: notice the close call between singing and sinning! Popular soul was black.

At the very same time and in a completely different context, Roy Hart was quoting the 19th century American romantic poet Henry Longfellow: “The voice is the muscle of the soul”.

Now for some reflections on the chain of synchronicities leading to and spinning off from these seemingly disparate cultural landmarks.

 

Château de Malérargues under the snow – very rare.

Chateau de Malerargues, where the Roy Hart Centre is located, (as is Pantheatre, half the year, the other half in Paris), is at the heart of the Cevennes’ historical Camisards religious rebellion. The Camisards (called so after the big white working blouses they wore) were the last of the Huguenot Protestants, mostly peasants, to resist the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis the XIVth (1685 and early 18th century), who basically said to Protestants: “Leave France or convert, or die”. Some stayed, refused to convert, and died. The Roi Soleil was by then under the witch-like bigot catholic influence of his mistress, Madame de Maintenant, or was it Madame de Montespan? The Cevennes hills are perfect guerilla territory. The Camisards gathered in clandestine cult assemblies that turned into wild ecstatic events with possessed voices and trance singing (all ages: babies were reported as reciting the Bible in Hebrew!)

From Romeo Castellucci’s latest piece Democracy in America. A American Puritan woman enters blasphemous possession: she could be a Camisard.

Those who fled to London, with what was known as the “Sacred Theatre”, came to be called The French Prophets: their assemblies were the ultimate attraction in town. England was violently divided between reasonable Calvinism or a “true and ecstatic” performative religion; it was almost civil war. Reason won: the singing prophets (including the evangelical Shakers and Quakers) had to go. Off to America. You can guess the rest: Gospel singing became a vehicle for (their) Afro-American slaves’ rhythms and rituals of possession: Negro Spirituals. In the late 1950s and 1960s Soul reappeared bringing back together Sex and Love, Anima and Body, Psyche and Eros, and it plunged with Spirit into “the valley of tears” (and pleasures). It was at first done by singing the same melodies, sometimes even the same words! Such ‘betrayals’ were termed “crossovers”: Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and many others. The 1960s baby-boomers revolution was under way.

In 1974, a bunch of, precisely, “baby-boomers”, or call them English Prophets (which is the point I want to make given that Roy Hart’s followers were almost all of Anglo-Protestant origins, travelling from London to the Cevennes with their own Sacred Theatre and wild voices), took over Malerargues [5]. I was part of the « bunch », and, of the forty of so group members who, as it were, migrated South, we were four or five Latins. The protestant connection turned out to be a surprising asset and there was actual mention among locals of “the return of the voice to the Cevennes”. The Malerargues valley started to roll and echo with singing and screaming, and communal enthusiasm – soon invited to rock local Protestant temples. L’Enthusiasme was actually the title of a singing-dancing performance presented in neighboring villages (I think Roy Hart himself chose the name in 1974 [6]). It took me a long time to understand the connection and the importance of protestant singing while sensing how inadequate it was for me – especially after Roy Hart’s death. His charisma had, as it were, erased the question for me. In the early 2000s Pantheatre’s Myth and Theatre Festival finally addressed the mythologies of the voice and of singing – under the thinking spirit of James Hillman, and siding mostly with what he called soul-making.

Afterthoughts

Lasalle’s main temple, where the concert took place, is a stout, austere and rather massive circular building, all-white,  outside and inside, with strictly nothing hanging on the walls. We sat in a semi-circle facing a unique, central emblem: a huge recessed, abstract cross. It struck me that it was, precisely, not “hanging” but embedded in the wall. Radical minimalist symbolism, once again, for, after all, it was a man that once hung nailed on a wooden cross. The benches had no kneeling platforms – it struck me this time. Remember I am a Catholic… No kneeling, presumably because considered an undignified theatrical gesture towards ‘only’ an image, even if the image of a man-god dying on the cross. The general attitude was cool and relaxed – very “reasonable” – making a point of proper tolerance and putting aside any expressionism: a ‘far cry’ from the despair and martyrdom possessions of the Camisards [7].

The Lasalle organist and organ builder JP Delrieu took on the concert on his own; the expected woman singer, pregnant, could not travel from Toulouse. Monsieur Delrieu is a remarkably affable man of a certain age and quite large, with the warmest of base singing voices. The manner in which he asked the audience not to applaud between songs was pure and perfect paternal authority, with elegant, sharp and smiling irony – presumably at us ‘tourists’… He took his shoes off to play the pedal keyboards and tip-toed in his socks “with no holes” between the two organs: on the left, a miniature pipe organ of his own making, on the right a Hammond organ. Mostly JS Bach on the pipe organ; only Negro Spirituals on the Hammond. Seeing him trying to make the bridge between the two I could not help thinking: “there is the Atlantic and at least three centuries of slave trading between the two”. Similarly with the Negro Spirituals which he sang with a delightful French accent and a few short swinging riffs. I could not quite rally the clapping enthusiasm for songs like “When the saints come marching in”. I was not brought up with Gospel, nor Broadway, and, this time, the enthusiasm felt almost (politically?) incorrect. Obviously I find difficult that “one day a week” that James Hillman recommended.

Two notions came to my mind, especially in terms of theatre and performance: the French bonhomie, and the implications of gregariousness. Both notions have gathered conflicting connotations. Bonhomie comes from “good man”: it means good heartedness linked with simplicity of manners. It is clearly not prone to theatrical histrionics. Here are some of the shadows and demons that bonhomie has gathered around it: conformist, conservative, docile, tame, resigned, prone to following, etc. Its antinomy comes up as rebellious, untamable, original, recalcitrant… i.e. back to the original “protesting”! It reflects for me some of the inherent contradictions of the Lasalle concert, and, incidentally, the notion of soul was never mentioned: History stopped short at Gospel singing (and Martin Luther King). Gregariousness is a more complex notion especially in terms of group work and solidarity. Much of choreographic theatre training and “doctrine” tackles precisely these questions. I often quote arch-buffoon grand master Philippe Gaulier: “The English love relationsheeeeep…” There are historically crucial esthetical, and political questionings in the iconoclastic principles of the Lutheran schism that we need to keep revisiting (« one day a week »?), especially from a performative point of view. I can only point to them here.

At one point Monsieur Delrieu, having cordially and proudly advocated protestant tolerance and inclusiveness, especially in terms of what I would call “evangelic” popular participation, let out a sharp arrow against Catholicism. It was about the choir in terms of the actual building enclosure central to catholic, gothic and baroque cathedrals. A sort of holy of holies into which only the privileged and powerful could enter to take their allotted seats and attend the cults, especially the mass [8]. Commoners could only look in through the gates and gaps of the choir walls, or mill about in the peripheral spaces and side-chapels, maybe looking at the images.

A barroque choir inset.

Coro Sevilla

The Choirs of Seville Cathedral, centrally enclosed and fenced in. Photo J. Bandera

Monsieur Delrieu was making a point about Luther as a man of the people, of equality and especially of freedom. True, the choirs are striking implants in Spanish gothic cathedrals and presumably the older gothic choirs were replaced or redone by baroque overloaded decors, breaking the so-called purity and unity of the gothic nave. Gothic purity is, as we know, relative: by the Renaissance, the gaudy color paints with which Gothic cathedrals were covered had faded and mostly disappeared, and this colorless architecture came to be considered more spiritual (similar to what happened to “white-marble” Greek statues). Luther did away with the choir architecture, and instituted in its place the choir as community choral singing in an acoustic space. Singing replaced theatre, abstract iconoclasm replaced images. My point, in both choreographic theatre and in voice performance – the two current pillars of Pantheatre – is both syncretistic and dissociative: singing-dancing-performing (and in my case, especially, with the inclusion of texts). Both Linda Wise and I are looking into and experimenting particularly into the role of music (and hence singing) in an imagistic, choreographic theatre.

Martin Luther was no simple character and his life story is full of shadowy moods and moves. He may also have changed considerably through his life – maybe because of manic-depressive choleric tendencies… There is plenty of historical debate on his life and ideas. I choose to finish with an editorial article published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais: Martín Lutero: mitos y realidades – by María Elvira Roca Barea, Spanish philologist and author of Imperiofobia y Leyenda Negra (Empire Phobia and Black Legend), which can only be about Luther versus Charles the Fifth, the Spanish Habsburg emperor of the Holy Roman (& Germanic) Empire. Basically she writes: “No monster, no hero”. So, who was Luther’s monster? Surprise: she claims that it was not so much the Vatican but Spain! It is a brilliant counter-protest move, thoroughly outspoken and militant, pointing to some worrisome implications, especially on how Luther divided Europe into North and South, despising anything “welsch, a rather vague geographical term that refers to the South – and that came to mean Latin or romantic, evil and immoral, all in one”.

Enrique Pardo, Malerargues, July 29, 2017

For an expanded version of these reflections and connections see: The French Prophets Prelude to a Myths of the Voice Festival (2004), and the presentation of the Myth and Theatre Festival.
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Footnotes

[1] The Hammond organ is a small electro-mechanic organ manufactured in the USA in 1935, originally conceived for poor churches who could not afford pipe organs. It was adopted by Jazz musicians and became the emblematic sound of early soul and rock music. At present the label belongs to the Japanese Zusuki, with numerous digital clones around the world.

[2] The 500 years mentioned are those since Martin Luther posted (or, as legend has it, nailed in defiance) his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, a gesture that started the Protestant Reform and what is called the Western Schism.

[3] Such was the success and commercial value of the word soul that, after Thomas Moore’s 1992 best-seller Care of Soul, Hillman (“The King of Soul”!) was told by his editor that the title of his own new book had to include the word soul! He refused at first, and then relented. Finally his own best-seller came out: The Soul’s Code – In search of character and calling, 1996. Thomas Moore was one of Hillman’s closest and most loyal collaborators. The commercial pitch of his book went: “… a guide to finding spirituality, depth, and meaning in modern life proposes a therapeutic way in which readers can look more deeply into emotional problems and sense sacredness in ordinary things. 35,000 first printing”! (To me, a very bonhome pitch…)

[4] I have not found the exact quote of Boer’s, mentioned above, but here is another editorial from Spring 62, 1997, worth reading: American Soul.

[5] When asked for a succinct statement on Malerargues, for the current website of the Roy Hart Centre, I wrote : “How did a bunch of baby-boomers come to own an amazing place like Château de Malérargues and its thirty or so hectares? Because of the charisma of Roy Hart, and thanks to the financial intrepidness of his friend Davide Monty Crawford. The rest, in all modesty, is small print.”

Maori Tekoteko figure used as logo for the 2006 Myth and Theatre Festival.

[6] And when asked about Roy Hart’s work, today, I proposed : “Singing, as defined by Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart, is an extraordinary idealistic and demanding proposal – I am especially interested in its Talmudic backdrop. Protestant enthusiasm often takes over: its cult is also called singing. This, from a baroque, neopagan ‘goy’.

[7] The 2006 Myth and Theatre Festival had as theme Broken Voices; its emblem-image was a Maori Tekoteko carved wooden figure. Few societies match Maori polytheistic performance expressionism (both male and female – and transvestite).

[8] …or fall sleep – or, surprise! – spend time looking at the images under the seats! Being a high-ranked ‘insider’ meant you could watch and meditate on images of sin – forbidden to the commoners: gothic pornography! See Las Sillerias del Coro.

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