CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY | By JOANNA TEBBS YOUNG
It’s no secret I love choral music, both as an audience member and as a vocalist. I’ve been singing since I was a little girl, making my solo debut in a huge church in my English hometown when I was ten, singing “Once in Royal David’s City.” In college, where I was a music minor, I began singing “Messiah” with the Rutland Area Chorus, under the direction of Alan Walker, each December. But then I left the area for almost twenty years.
Returning to Rutland, there was no question if I’d join a chorus again, and there was also no question which one it would be.
Since my parents had both sung with him over the years of my absence, Rip Jackson’s reputation and the Grace Congregational Church-associated choirs had been made clear. It wasn’t long before I had attended some music-filled Sunday morning services and other events, and signed up for another season of “Messiah.”
Soon, I was one of the robed Sunday singers myself. I can’t recall over eight years all of Rip’s concerts in which I’ve performed or attended, but some of the highlights are as fresh in my mind as the day I experienced them: The professionalism of “Les Miserables,” the magnificence of the music, verse, dance, and staging of “Beatitudes,” the sheer exuberance of the most recent Gospel concert, and the message at the Concert for Peace. In my blog after performing in that particular multi-choir event in 2010, where the entire ensemble, singers and audience alike, sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” in unison, I wrote:
“The power of voice, the power of song, the power of people coming together. If all the world could sing together there could be no war. When we sing together we hear how every voice is as important and special as the next. And together each of us have the power to affect another person’s heart. When we sing, it all seems so clear and easy. Singing together gives a glimpse of the way the world should and could be.”
Yes, music is one of the most powerful ways we humans can come together as one, and Rip has been giving the Rutland area this gift for the past 15 years.
When you walk into a Rutland Area Chorus rehearsal, where almost half of Grace Church’s Fellowship Hall is filled with excited, ready-to-sing-ers ranging in age from twelve to eighty-somethings, who upon Rip’s beat all surge as one into harmonious sound, you know you have found a community of people who personally know the power of music. When you participate in a voice master class, where everyone is as nervous as you but also as supportive of your growth as a musician, it is a lesson in vulnerability and trust, which are the very foundations of a well-functioning community. When you attend a concert or staged musical work, where children and adults alike send their love of music into the standing-room-only audience, which responds with an emotion-filled energy of equal measure, you are part of a community bought together through music.
This is Rip’s legacy for Rutland. Little children have learned to perform on stage, some of whom have flourished under his guidance, amazing us with their young gifts and growing into musicians in their own right. Thanks to his expertise and gentle encouragement, nervous singers have gained confidence and large groups have coalesced into one voice. Talented souls have risen to the stage and beyond their own expectations, and audiences have been transported by his interpretation of music and dance.
Above all, I believe, it is Rip’s deep love of others and nature, and his spirituality — an awareness of the sacred which he called in a past interview, the “deepest, most powerful connection to Source/God/Spirit/Universe; to that which we can’t understand; how we touch the ‘thin places’ where we can connect to the powerful force that runs through the universe” — that has filled both the risers and the pews (not to mention, the Paramount, multiple nights in a row). It is the spontaneous tears bought on by the resonant harmonies of a meditative chant or the vibrations felt in the body’s core as the acapella notes soar into the stonework of IHM. His talent, beyond musical, is his ability to express love through the music.
But now it is time for Rip to move on, to share this love elsewhere. Rip told me last year that “Vermont’s wonderful. It’s so great to work full-time with music and to be close to nature — my passions. I love Grace church and the Rutland community. It’s a wonderful place to work and live.” But as a director, teacher, harpsichordist, organist, composer and all-round brilliant musician, he has been snatched up by the extremely fortunate First Parish Church in Lexington, Massachusetts. (His last service at Grace will be August 9.)
While I personally have to thank Rip for helping me find my voice again, I know I speak for many others who are intensely grateful for what he has done for the Rutland-area community. And as I write this, for his (Vermont) swan-song, he is introducing Europe to some of Rutland’s best singers; representing our little city in Austria for one of the things we do best: coming together to spread love through the making and appreciation of great music.
So, in closing, I have to quote from one of my favorite songs by Abba:
Thank you (Rip) for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks all the joy you’re bringing. Who could live without it, I ask in all honesty, what would life be? Without a song or a dance, what are we? So I say thank you for music, for bringing it to me.
Thank you, Rip. We wish you all the success in your new job. We will miss you immensely.
Joanna Tebbs Young is a writing workshop facilitator and “Re-INK Your Life!” coach living in Rutland.