Brueggergosman’s faith and love presented in Songs of Freedom
Thursday, Feb 16, 2017 06:00 am
Songs of Freedom is Measha Brueggergosman connecting with her faith and her past, while honouring her family.
The album and tour (at Banff Centre’s Eric Harvie Theatre, Feb. 18) celebrate freedom, but also shine a light on our nation’s past. The film Songs of Freedom, which documented Meahsa’s journey, has been nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards. You can watch the performance on Vision TV, airing four times over the month of February to coincide with Black History Month.
In 2007, Brueggergosman discovered her family’s deep history in Canada and the United States. Her paternal great-grandparents were John Gosman and his wife Rose, African Americans who each escaped from slavery in New England colonies during the American Revolution by going to British lines.
Gosman was from Connecticut and Rose from Rhode Island. The two probably met in New York City, then occupied by the British. The British gave freedom to American slaves who left rebel slaveholders and sought refuge with them. Tens of thousands of slaves, mostly in the South, took advantage of the war’s chaos to escape, so many that the plantations were disrupted in South Carolina and Virginia, especially.
“I grew up in Ferguson, New Brunswick, the north side, and was involved in a church; but with my church I always make the distinction that it had at the core of it the musical ministry in the classical tradition,” Brueggergosman said.
“I grew up listening and singing Handel, Mendelssohn and Bach and other sacred classical composers, but it was later on in high school and into university when I really started to explore more of the spiritual.”
Brueggergosman would go on to hear the music sung by people as encores, but noticed it never really centred in anyone’s core recital programming.
“I felt like this repertoire ... would seem not unlike reggae in that people love gospel music because it’s a very uplifting genre of music,” Brueggergosman said.
“It doesn’t matter where you fall on the faith spectrum, it’s a music that really touches people. Of course I have a personal faith, I happen to love Jesus, but for me the album is intensely personal. I think the repertoire is strong enough that my faith is a bonus, but the repertoire, or the bones of it, would be here whether or not I was.”
The album contains renditions of classical gospel numbers including “Amazing Grace,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” with the trained soprano putting her history, emotion and faith into every note.
“When people talk to me about how intimidated they are in coming to a classical concert or the opera, I say, ‘no, this will meet you where you are,’ and what I’ve loved about my career is that little by little I feel like I might be the type of artist who people might feel more willing to come to take a risk for,” Brueggergosman said.
“How many times have I been sitting there signing CDs and somebody says to me, ‘you know, I’ve never been to a classical concert before,’ or ‘I’ve never really given gospel music a chance before’ ... It turns out the music is much stronger than I ever would be, and it’s humbling and a privilege to do this job, but when you find the repertoire that speaks for you, I think that goes a long way to making the bums in the seats feel that much more comfortable.”
Brueggergosman agrees it’s hard on the head for an artist to have to be led by the heart, because if you know the repertoire is best tackled from a perspective of wanting, it has to be as meaningful for the listener as possible. Does that mean you make your decisions based upon how it makes you feel? Or the response you’re hoping to illicit?
“As a Christian, I of course see my testimony in these songs, but I also have to treat it in a way that’s going to make the music speak at its highest emotional volume,” Brueggergosman said.
“It’s one of those head and heart projects where the two merge, and yes there are technical challenges, and stamina of course, and illness sometimes raises its ugly head, and you have to find a way – that is part of the job for which I have trained for, for which I am ready, and it’s the warrior in me that gets me through and out on the other side unscathed.”