What did you like about this workshop?

This was one of the most exhilarating, restorative, and thrilling workshops I have attended, and I have been attending for about 25 years! The combination of teaching about the psychological centrality of music for African and African-American peoples, and the experience of learning and singing such wonderful music as part of a group, was transformative!

VERY educational! I thought I was just going to sing. no, non, no! Learned a great deal about song, African history and present, and the power of communal singing. Really excellent workshop and a lot of fun.

This was such a wonderful presentation. The spirit of community that was ushered in through the singing of the African Chants, Spirituals, Gospel Music and etc... was such an amazing feeling. This was the number one reason I signed up for the Symposium. The things I witnessed and heard during this presentation will definitely help me reach my clientele.

Absolutely everything!

The presenter did a wonderful job of weaving together history and culture and song. She was good humored and stayed on task and made us stay on task. I felt exhilarated and learned a lot.

Presenter is exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable . She was able to cultivate beautiful music from a family unskilled group. 

Dr. Barnwell is an extraordinary performer, teacher, and musicologist.

Ysaye said that when several voices sing different songs simultaneously, another voice emerges. I "heard" a new song within. Wow.

Everything. She created community through harmony. It was a treat to understand African music through history. What a remarkable teacher!

I appreciated Ysaye's skill and depth of knowledge. She had a wide variety of types of music for us to sing coupled with knowledge about the African experience from chants to spirituals and the Civil Rights movement. She's a master!

Dr. Barnwell's mastery of the voice as instrument. I told her, with the music history she shared, we were also getting a short course in the cultural anthropology of African-American music.

Ysaye's knowledge of the different types of black music, the etiology of the different streams (gospel spiritual etc.

the history she provided about the different kinds of music she had a delightful sense of humor

Ysaye is an amazing teacher and healer. She treats us all as consummate singers and with gentle prodding and exquisite skill, gets us all singing in beautiful and complex harmonies. It is uplifting, fun and renewing and I loved every second of it. I hope she does this workshop every year at the symposium. I can't get enough of her


Level of participation. Ease of presenter.

I felt so alive in my body! Truly a transformative event. 

the transforming nature of the workshop 

It truly was joyful and transformative. And having a history lesson taught through song was a brilliant bonus.

bodily experience not just talking

Barnwell's enthusiasm, sense of humor, actually trying African chant/song. Her using the class as building blocks of harmony and lyricism. Deviding us into groups that she conducted as a choir.

It helped me to reconnect with my voice.

Everything! Each time I have an opportunity to participate in a community sing (and this was more than that) with Dr. Barnwell, it is a transformative experience. Thank you. 

I loved being part of a group who is enjoying creating music together 

This is one of the best workshops I have ever attended. Thank you.

..As a child I studied music at high school but any time we had to sing I was singled out to keep my mouth shut. Although I could hear music what came out of my mouth didn't work so well.

As an adult I questioned many received wisdoms and this was one of them. I loved music so much and could hear it and play it so well it didn't make sense that I couldn't sing it.

Ysaye Barnwell, one of the members of Sweet Honey, gave a singing workshop in London in the late 80s and I signed up. By the end of that weekend I was not only singing, I was singing every damn part from soprano all the way down to bass. And so was every single other person in that group.

It was wonderful to hear her live and feel the love and gratitude I have towards her for helping me to find my singing voice. It was a transformative experience that literally changed my life. I joined a choir a few years after that workshop and have never looked back. I'm not a good singer but the thing is this, singing massages my soul - it nourishes the parts that other activities simply do not reach - and so I've become a bit of a singing slut - always on the lookout to singing my little heart out, wherever and whenever that may be!

I tell other people all the time how much I love your community sing and how lucky I feel to be a part of it but I'm sure I don't tell you often enough how grateful I am. When I got home tonight I began writing about it and thought I'd send you the draft...

Sing, sing, sing....

“Sing, sing sing,” she says, and we do. 

The magic of finding the pitch amid the many voices, the challenge of remembering the part before the one she’s teaching now, the joy of blending black and white, young and old, talented and mediocre, three piece suits and hippie attire, all this and more makes up the wonder of the Ysaye Barnwell Community Sing. Each month I go to my local music school, pay five dollars and find a chair where I can see Ysaye clearly. For two blissful hours, I join anywhere from forty to one hundred people in song. It is my church, a place of joy and love and sacred moments, and I come away refreshed, full of light and with an open heart.

At Ysaye’s community sing the chairs are arrayed in an enormous U shape and you can choose to sing wherever you like. The basses and sopranos sit like bookends at either end of the U, and tenors and altos place themselves along the curves. There are always lots of altos, almost as many tenors and smaller sections of sopranos and basses. No matter where you sit you can hear every section clearly. When we first arrive, there’s often a polite scurrying as we jockey for the perfect seats, the ones with the best sight line to Ysaye’s lips, source of all the music we will sing. We sit entranced, watching her strong, mobile face shine as she sings the bass, alto, soprano, and tenor parts with her four octave range. She watches each section carefully, sometimes further subdividing us until we are singing six or more distinct parts. At times, she gestures us in to make the harmony swell, then later gently silences us to better hear the problems, to find where the tenors have gone astray or why we sopranos are suddenly singing the alto part a third up instead of our own nuanced and intricate harmony. 

Patiently, Ysaye moves the song along until it becomes a part of us. We sit dutifully repeating each part as the words and music slip effortlessly into our memories, into our bodies more than our minds. Once I find my part, hear and reproduce what Ysaye is singing to me and my sister sopranos, the words emerge for me in all their power and delicate beauty. First, we sing “There’s a lily, in the valley, bright as the morning sun” and then justice in the valley, peace in the valley and more. Still later, we sing an echoing “...stars rise and sing, who we are” while altos sing “For each child that’s born, a morning star rises,” and other sections blend their words and notes in a soft watercolor of sound. Later, we roar “Gimme that old time religion” while the basses do an amazing “Gimme that, Gimme that o-l-d” and later still we sing about Ezikial and the wheel, way up in the middle of the air and we sing how “nobody said the road would be easy....” 

These are often simple songs, made interesting by the intricate harmonies Ysaye knows or makes up on the spot, but they carry great fullness. They are songs of a people, of their courage and hope and heartbreak, their amazing fortitude and joy amid the brutality of their lives. Every month these songs lift us into grace, into oneness with each other, with the song, with the world, and I am so grateful for gift of Ysaye who so brilliantly leads us into bliss.   -ANN C.