A Singing Stream: Discussion Guide
A Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle
Running Time 57 minutes Copyright Date 1986
Filmmaker Tom Davenport with Daniel Patterson and Allen Tullos
Topics The American Dream, family, reunions, voting rights, rural life, Jim Crow segregation, school desegregation, voting rights, African American gospel quartets, faith, resilience
PROCEDURE FOR DISCUSSION LEADERS
· One hour for screening
· Thirty minutes for discussion
· Thirty minutes for related activities (optional)
Overview This story of a musically gifted African American family from the rural South is told through interviews, stories, family photos, scenes from daily life, reunions, gospel concerts, and church services. The film traces the history of the Landis family of Granville County, North Carolina, over the lifetime of its oldest surviving member, 86-year-old Bertha Landis. Her sons’ gospel quartet, The Golden Echoes, rehearse and perform during a Landis family reunion and family members describe their migration north, work, race relations, music, and family ties.
· Preview the film and review this guide and Resources.
· Learn more about the Landis family and the Golden Echoes as well as African American quartet singing at www.folkstreams.net/context,34 (optional).
· Choose how you want to open discussion.
· Welcome the audience by introducing yourself and Folkstreams.net.
· Depending upon the size of the group, ask people to introduce themselves either to the people sitting near them or to the whole group.
· Ask viewers to conduct a self-inventory by taking an internal note of what they think the film will be about.
· Return to self-inventories. Did the film differ from what viewers expected? What surprised them?
· Use one of these quotations to spark conversation about family as well as the film:
“As the boys grew up, I saw that they had a talent for singing. I began to realize that they had a singing stream coming from both sides of the family. I wanted them to grow up and be involved in something that was worthwhile and something that would bring them joy and happiness as they grew up in years. So I began to teach 'em.”
“I went to work and I’ve been climbing ever since.”
“My mother told me I had to go register, that was just something I had to do, we had to vote. ‘Make sure you vote.’ Voting day she’d remind us.”
“We had a school here, and the set-up was altogether different from the white school. We couldn’t ever get what we needed. . . .The bus would pass us with the white kids and we had to walk.”
“Once they saw that, hey, these people are just not a bunch of people from the farm and don’t have any intelligence whatsoever. . . .They can come in here compete with us on the same level academically, things kind of changed a little bit.”
Questions below offer various ways of discussing the film:
-What music is sacred to you?
-How does the Landis family compare with fictional African American families in films and on TV? How do they compare with your family?
-How did the Civil Rights Movement affect your life?
-How does your family stay connected—through reunions, holidays, photographs, email, phone calls, cherished artifacts, rites of passage?
-The Landis home is filled with photographs of many family members. What family photos mean most to you and why?
Interacting and Reflecting
The saying “Expect a miracle” adorns Bertha Landis’s mantel. Family sayings reveal a lot about families. Ask people to share some of their family sayings. How have they influenced people? The group can make a booklet of their family sayings to photocopy and take home.
Family heroes like Bertha Landis sustain their families through hard times. Ask people to share stories of their family heroes.
What does home ownership mean to people? How has home ownership changed in their lifetimes?
Bertha Landis used the “singing stream” of musical traditions on both sides of her sons’ family to involve them in something that she hoped would bring them joy and happiness throughout their lives. The a cappella quartet harmony style of gospel music requires a great deal of practice and cooperation. What have people mastered in their lives? Ask them to share a talent. Sing, draw, dance, bake, sew, build or repair something together!
Study different styles of African American sacred music and play recorded examples (see Wade in the Water and A History of Gospel Music in Resources).
Invite the music director of a local church to speak about a congregation’s music history and traditions.
Organize interdenominational fieldtrips so people can experience the music of different churches.
Ask people of different faiths to share sacred music traditions in a community sing-along.
High school students and community organization volunteers can research preservation of family photographs and work with family members and older adults to catalog and preserve their photographs (see Resources). The local library or historical society could host workshop sessions.
Lornell, Kip. Happy in the Service of the Lord: African-American Sacred Vocal Harmony. University of Tennessee Press, 1995.
Zeitlin, Steven, Amy Kotkin, and Holly Cutting Baker. A Celebration of American Family Folklore. Pantheon Books, 1982. Available from the CARTS Culture Catalog www.carts.org 800/333-5982.
American Routes www.americanroutes.org Archives of the public radio program hosted by Nick Spitzer include many interviews with African American sacred musicians.
Florida State Library and Archives Protect Family Photographs http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/archives/preservation/Photographs/index.cfm
Folkstreams.net includes contextual materials for many of its films, including this one. See www.folkstreams.net/context,34.
A History of Gospel Music www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4233793 This National Public Radio web site includes many sound samples.
Jim Crow History www.JimCrowHistory.org Find excellent resources and activities.
Library of Congress Caring for Your Photographic Collections www.loc.gov/preserv/care/photo.html
Louisiana Voices www.louisianavoices.org Unit VI features resources for documenting local secular and sacred music in any community.
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings www.folkways.si.edu distributes Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions Vol. I-IV, with extensive historical notes by Bernice Johnson Reagan.
UNC Libraries Photograph Preservation Basics www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/pha/pres.html
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