The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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With a song in her soul

Patricia Trice
Patricia Trice
photo credit: William Smiley

Unlike many young people, Patricia Trice '68 MM never had to “find herself” or agonize over her what to do with her life. Music was her calling, and she answered the call.

“I was one of those lucky people who always knew she wanted to do something with music,” says Patricia, founder and director of the Spiritual Renaissance Singers of Greensboro. “So I didn't have to worry about it.”

Patricia, a concert pianist, choral director and organist, had a long teaching career at NC A&T and Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. In 1988, she earned a PhD in music education from Florida State University, where she was a McKnight Doctoral Fellow.

In 1989, Patricia and a friend, in hopes of bringing the choral arrangements of the old African-American spirituals back into public consciousness, organized the Spiritual Renaissance Singers of Tampa. She quickly discovered a dearth of information about spirituals, a musical form at the heart of virtually all American music that has come since: jazz, gospel, blues, vaudeville, barbershop quartets — even Broadway musicals.

Spiritual folk songs arose in America by the end of the 17th century. Slaves on plantations were allowed no socializing or recreational activities except singing and some dancing.

“The music was the only part of their culture they were allowed to keep,” Patricia says. “The songs were also a means of communication because they spoke different languages and were not allowed to speak to each other during the work day. The songs used a language they created from their own languages as well as the languages spoken around them. The new language was initially misidentified as baby talk and later as dialect. Because they were forbidden to use instruments, the folk songs they created are unaccompanied by instruments but were often sung in parts.”

Spirituals were a means of passing on coded information, as well as a method for coping with the loss of home, family and religion. Because slaves were forced to adopt Christianity, the language in the stories was acceptable text and Bible stories were metaphors for their own lives, Patricia says.

“Spirituals are a part of American history that speak to a wonderful kind of hope. They are wonderfully full of hope and determination, all the best things about religion.”

So she set about tackling the lack of information about spirituals.

“Spiritual arrangements really needed doing,” Patricia says. “After school integration the genre was pretty much junked. There was no place to go to find out what else was out there. There was a lot of research on spiritual folk songs in the 1970s but no comprehensive study of choral arrangements.”

So she created that reference herself. Greenwood Press published her “Choral Arrangements of the African-American Spirituals” in 1998. Patricia and her husband returned to Greensboro that same year, and in the fall of 1999, she led the Spiritual Renaissance Singers of Greensboro through their first rehearsal at Bennett College.

The group generally consists of 24 singers who rehearse weekly. Black, white, older, younger — they are a diverse group that sings unaccompanied. They present concerts, workshops, lecture-demonstrations and clinics for school children yearly. In 2008-09, to celebrate their 10th season, they co-hosted a concert of spiritual arrangements by children and youth choirs in April, and a recital of art songs, featuring guest artists in May.

“The singers are wonderfully supportive of each other and of me,” Patricia says. “These are friendships we never would have developed if we weren't part of this group. And that is as important as the music making.”

Save the date

The Spiritual Renaissance Singers of Greensboro just wrapped up their 11th season. They have already scheduled three concerts for next season, which begins in January.

Dates and times are:

  • West Market Street United Methodist Church, Greensboro; Sunday, Jan. 16, 4 p.m.
  • St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, Greensboro; Sunday, Feb. 20, 4 p.m.
  • Grace Presbyterian Church, Winston-Salem; Sunday, March 20, 4 p.m.

Audio Clip:
Listen to a clip of the Spiritual Renaissance Singers of Greensboro.

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Last updated: Tuesday, 04 October 2011
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