Jazz musicians seek to bridge divisions
Drawing from their musical background and faith, Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Connye Florance and her husband, jazz pianist Kevin Madill, present “Crossing the Divide,” a musical program that seeks to heal divisions in society and the church.
They will present “Crossing the Divide” at 7 p.m. Saturday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church and at 4 p.m. Sunday at Carson Valley United Methodist Church in Gardnerville.
The couple’s message about cultural and racial healing is “actually a message that I’ve been getting for most of my young and adult life,” said Florance in a phone interview on Wednesday. “There’s been no love message since Dr. King died. The issues of love and race have always been with me.”
Florance hails from North Carolina where her ancestors were slaves or active in the civil rights movement. Madill is from Indiana, where the Ku Klux Klan flourished in the early and middle 20th century. Married for 16 years, the couple bring vastly different backgrounds to the racial divisions in this nation.
Those differences inspired “Crossing the Divide,” which uses music as a means of encouraging people to communicate about their cultural, racial, and other differences and to seek reconciliation. “Crossing the Divide” is not a one-way concert with performers and audience; it’s a dialogue. Following each program, Florance and Madill will lead a discussion on racial, political, religious or cultural issues with the goal of reconciliation.
“We found ourselves drawn toward doing this. It’s what we feel like we’re supposed to do,” Madill said.
“We want the audience to come away with hope, and know that each of us can do something to make things better.”
Although the message had been stirring within for a lifetime, it took a stroke Florance suffered a couple years ago before the couple shifted direction from jazz musicians to messengers of healing.
“We took a retreat and talked about it, what the message was and was not going to be,” Florence said. “We pulled from our repertoire of work, songs about love and reconciliation and drew other songs that would work. We put both together and looked at what we had and what was being said. I sort of wrote a scripted text that goes along with it, a general call to take part and engage in discussion.”
The response has been encouraging.
“Although the demographics are different everywhere you go, I get this overriding feeling that this kind of program for fellowship and discussion is quite needed,” Florance said. “We’re very excited by it, and blessed by the effort.”
“In a PC society, it’s a little frightening to bring up things people don’t want to admit exist. (The response) totally reinforces the message that I’ve been getting.”
Steve Farnsley, Carson Valley United Methodist Church music director, agrees. When he heard about “Crossing the Divide” he said he jumped at the chance to bring it to the area.
“We continue to live in a time where people continue to build walls,” he said. “We’re counting on people having open minds and enjoying really great music.”
There is no charge for either program and an offering will be collected.
• Caryn Haller of The Record-Courier contributed to this story.