Put your hands together. Garland Nelson is in the house.
“Are you feeling good?” Nelson pressed a group of people who gathered at Gavin Park’s meeting room Tuesday evening.
“Yeah,” they called back.
“Are you feeling real good?”
“Yeah!” they shouted.
Nelson got the nine participants on their feet at the first of six workshops he designed to explore how African traditions evolved and influenced today’s American music.
“Shout it Out: The Evolution of the Black Vocal Tradition” is sponsored by the Saratoga Springs Visitors Center for adults and children. The free sessions celebrate Black History Month.
“Without the black musical expression, music as we know it in America wouldn’t exist,” said Nelson, a Saratoga Springs resident who is a member of Soul Session, a local music group.
Nelson has taught an accelerated version of the “Shout it Out” workshops at local schools.
He’ll cover African drumming and the slave spirituals, the anthems of the civil rights movement and the Blues.
The workshops this month and next month aren’t only meant to be educational. Nelson wants to build a “vocal community” through the workshops, where people can jam together and learn new songs.
“It allows people to kind of add a degree of themselves into it,” he said.
Nelson, an energetic leader who gets audience members up out of their seats, clapping and singing along, is a Brooklyn native who graduated from Skidmore College and has lived in the area since 1992.
Two other musicians will join Nelson at some of the workshops: Brian Melick, drummer for the McKrells and Soul Session; and Elizabeth Woodbury, a pianist and composer who will perform the Blues.
“Our history is a very harsh one, but that doesn’t stop our people from evolving,” Nelson said.
The workshops are funded by a grant from the state Council on the Arts through the Saratoga County Program for Arts Funding.
Black History Month will also come to the Saratoga Springs Public Library, which will put on a Black History film forum.
Five films about the black American experience will be screened, along with a discussion after each one. The showings are free. For more information, call the library at 584-7860. The film schedule is as follows:
u Saturday, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. — “Banished” tells the story of three counties that exiled black families 100 years ago.
u Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. — “Black History in Saratoga Springs” explores black residents’ role as the city emerged as a summer resort for the rich. Myra Young Armstead of Bard College, who contributed to the film, will lead the discussion.
u Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. — “Homecoming” is the first film to deal with rural blacks’ struggle for land during the Reconstruction.
u Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. — “Against the Odds” tells of black artists during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s.
u Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. — “Goin’ to Chicago” chronicles blacks’ migration from the rural South to cities in the North and West after World War II.
Learn about how African musical traditions shaped American music at one of five remaining workshops by Garland Nelson, a local musician. Each “Shout it Out” workshop will be slightly different with some overlap, so go to one or visit them all.
u Monday, Jan. 28 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Universal Preservation Hall, 25 Washington St., Saratoga Springs.
u Wednesday, Jan. 30 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Saratoga Springs Public Library Community Room, 49 Henry St.
u Sunday, Feb. 10 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at The Factory Eatery and Spirits, 20 Prospect St., Ballston Spa.
u Monday, Feb. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ford Community Center, 37 East Fenlon St., Saratoga Springs.
u Wednesday, Feb. 20 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Saratoga Arts Council’s Dee Sarno Theater, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs.
The workshops are free. For more information, call 587-3241.
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