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Hold On, America, Hold On! Reactions

 

After the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, music educator and singer Gerald Case-Blanchard recorded a heartfelt, honest reaction to the injustice. His message to America: we must do better, and to do that we need to come together. He ended the recording with the haunting refrain, “hold on” from one of his favorite spirituals, “Keep Your Hand On the Plow.”

Case-Blanchard could not have known that the short recording from his living room would spark a groundbreaking performance by the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra almost two years later.

Shortly after the post went live, Anne Harrigan, Artistic Director of The Music Center and Conductor of the Battle Creek Symphony, saw Gerald’s video on social media and began to ponder what a response from the music community might be. How could the Black experience be understood through performance?

The answer became Hold On, America, Hold On, a multi-dimensional, one-night performance held this spring at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium. It included stories of the Black experience, both historic and contemporary, combined with photos and original music composed by James Lee III. Case-Blanchard was not only a collaborator, he was one of five performers who took the stage to share their stories.

“For me, 'hold on' means 'hold on' as in 'back up,' but also 'hold on to the promise of who we are as Americans,'” he said.

At the end of the night, the performance was met with resounding applause, and audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, no one at the Music Center can recall any performance garnering as much positive feedback.

“This was something that we were excited about, but we weren’t sure how the community would respond,” Harrigan said. “It was extremely affirming for us.”

Considering the very personal and touching content, it’s no wonder Hold On, America, Hold On was so impactful. Each of the five storytellers either spoke from their own experience or took on the persona of a historical figure.

Carolyn Ballard stepped back in time and shared the story of the lynching of Emmet Till, from the perspective of his mother. Performer Altamiece Carolyn Cooper illuminated the Tulsa Massacre. Shawn Washington, speaking to himself as a child, had this teenage son join him on stage as if he were sharing those same words with his son. Robert McFletcher-Jones, a music educator and performer shared his lived experience dealing with discrimination. Case-Blanchard shared a heartfelt message as well, pulling themes from the impromptu video he recorded earlier.

Case-Blanchard said he wrote and rewrote his piece numerous times to refine his message, and the rehearsal process was almost as powerful as the performance.

“Everyone came together, and we all became a part of the Battle Creek community,” he added. “The result was a glorious compositional work that expressed all the emotions – the pain and suffering, the joy and hope – the true spirit of it all.”

The music for Hold On, America, Hold On, was written and arranged exclusively for the performance, and it wrapped and uplifted the stories with reverence and grace.

“It became a unique project,” Case-Blanchard said. “Even to this day people are still talking about it.”

The performance was held just weeks before the Music Center’s annual board of directors’ retreat, and it sparked a desire among board members to feature more performances like Hold On, America Hold On that feature the voices of people of color and other marginalized performers and musicians. They believe the community is ready for new perspectives.

“It strengthened the resolve of the board to continue this kind of work,” Harrigan said. “They affirmed that this is a direction we want to continue to go in.”

Following the retreat, the board and Music Center administrators began to talk about how Hold On, America Hold On could be performed for a wider audience. That could look like a pre-recorded performance by the storytellers accompanied by other orchestras. The format and music could also uplift new stories, each unique to the community where it’s being performed. Case-Blanchard is wholeheartedly behind the idea of replicating and expanding Hold On, America, Hold On.

“I felt like I had a voice,” he said. “For that night I really felt like my stories were heard and all my colleagues’ stories were heard.”

The staff and board of The Music Center hope that projects like Hold On, America, Hold On continue to provide a voice for African Americans in south central Michigan and beyond. Stay tuned as we announce more performances with purpose.

Gerald Case Blanchard
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Hold On, America, Hold On! Reactions

July 5, 2022

After the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, music educator and singer Gerald Case-Blanchard recorded a heartfelt, honest reaction to the injustice. His message to America: we must do better, and to do that we need to come together. He ended the recording with the haunting refrain, “hold on” from one of his favorite spirituals, “Keep Your Hand On the Plow.” Case-Blanchard could not have known that the short recording from his living room would spark a groundbreaking performance by the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra almost two years later.

Hold On, America, Hold On!

February 28, 2022

The music community illuminates issues facing African Americans today and explores Black history. On the morning after the murder of George Floyd, Anne Harrigan, the artistic director of the Music Center and conductor of the Battle Creek Symphony, decided to go out for a coffee in her Grand Rapids neighborhood only to find one of her favorite coffee shops boarded up. She knew protests were sweeping across the city, but the stark reality of those wooden windows stunned her.

Music Speaks Through the Battle Creek Symphony

October 28, 2021

In operation since 1899, the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra (BCSO) represents the longest continuously performing orchestra in Michigan. With deep roots in Battle Creek and the surrounding area for the past 123 years, the BCSO has some of the highest quality symphonic traditions to be found.

Let’s take a look at the history of the BCSO, how it coped with the challenges of the past year, and what lies ahead for the 2021-2022 season.

Music and Mental Health

October 28, 2021

Music has the power to soothe, excite, calm and comfort us. Whether tied to a tender moment, the joy of playing an instrument, or the excitement of a concert—music often goes hand-in-hand with some of our most impactful memories. A group bonding experience or individually meditative moment spent with music can act as a bridge to better wellbeing, both physically and mentally.

Community Music School

Live, from Battle Creek!

August 10, 2021

Ever since the formation of The Music Center in 2000, we’ve been passionate about building community through music. The Music Center is a unique combination of music arts and programs created to enhance the lives of children and adults of all ages and talent levels. Although the past year and a half has been full of challenges, our mission remains the same. If anything, we’ve learned more about the incredible power of music to unite a community through unprecedented times.

We'd Love to hear from you!

Phone: 269.963.1911

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CORONAVIRUS UPDATE (COVID-19)

The Music Center is currently open and resuming all activities. We take the safety of our students and staff very seriously and follow the CDC and State of Michigan safety guidelines. While we understand some may wish to adhere to their own interpretation of protocols, you will be required you to comply with safety postings in our building in order to participate in our classes and lessons.

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