Feeling Joy on Stage – Reflections on a Performance in Behalf of The Preuss School

by on May 4, 2022 · 0 comments

in From the Soul, San Diego

by Ernie McCray

I don’t know if there is anything like the joy of being on stage.

Such were my thoughts after the last time I was on one, doing “Still, We Rise,” a Poetry and Jazz Show, at the Conrad Prebys Music Center at UC San Diego, with some amazingly talented people the world should know.

Cecil Lytle, a concert jazz pianist of renown and professor emeritus at UCSD, produced and performed in the show.

The Rob Thorsen Quartet and jazz vocalist, Steph Johnson, did most of the music for the show.

Brilliant local actor, Walter Murray, did a cameo that added a nice touch to the show.

Yolanda Franklin, one of the most talented thespians I know, and I, read our poetry and the poems of Langston Hughes, Amanda Gorman and Maya Angelou – along with a few words from Martin Luther King’s heart and soul.

And, to add some extra pizzaz to the show, we were joined by no other than the incomparable bass guitarist, Nathan East, a graduate of the school where we were doing the show, a musician who has played with superstars we all know like Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson, and Herbie Hancock and Ringo. His young son, Noah, came with him and jammed on the organ like a seasoned pro.

Joyful can’t aptly describe what appearing on stage with these folks felt like in my old soul.

And a big part of the delight was that it was in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Cecil Lytle Scholarship which benefits students at The Preuss School, a remarkable school that Mr. Lytle and others created a couple of decades ago.

Since the concert was about a people, a race, rising, I can’t think of a school more deserving of such support, considering that The Preuss School literally exemplifies notions of “rising” as students there are striving to be the first in their family to receive a college degree.

And there’s a long hallway on the campus featuring hundreds of young people who’ve done just that.

Students from the school appeared on stage with us in a couple of our readings and that lit up the educator in me, the sixth-grade teacher, the vice-principal, the principal I used to be.

Being an educator I enjoy taking part in things that give kids something to think about, and I’d like to think that they got some insights into Black History that night, in a performance space that rang with the sounds of Black music, the blending of funk and bee bop and swing and gospel and blues, people in the audience swaying their shoulders, tapping their feet, bobbing their heads and patting their thighs to the rhythms and the beats that have gotten my people through the absolute worst of times, still plugging, still seeking a place, still rising…

It was heartwarming hearing their voices with Yolanda and mine in Martin’s “I Have a Dream” and vocalizing with them in Langston’s “Let America Be America Again,” reflections from our nation’s past.

I couldn’t resist the thought in those moments that they could be the generation that finally gets around to seeing that everyone is truly “Free at Last!”

That feeling comes from having visited their school to rehearse with them and finding myself walking past murals exploring social justice issues, while the soothing sounds of camaraderie surrounded me, friendly laughter, playful teasing, with bits and pieces of conversations reaching my ears that verified what I was seeing:

“Hey, girl, you killed them in that debate!”

“It’s so nice you got that internship at San Diego State.”

“Where do you get ideas for your cool essays?”

“Chill. You’ll probably hear from Berkeley in a few days.”

Oh, if every school was like The Preuss School the world would be a much greater place.

A world that reflects the kind of joy I felt celebrating such a wonderful dynamic learning environment on stage.

Nothing has brought me more joy than what I felt that day.

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