From fingers clicking and hands clapping
To knee slapping and foot tapping
Till humming becomes singing
And bodies are standing, swaying, dancing,
We begin to feel
It’s June 18th, the sun is shining and I’m walking with my sister, my partner, and three friends towards Muziekgebouw. Tonight, we will attend ‘To feel a thing: a ritual for emergence’, part of the Holland Festival. I heard of the event earlier in the week, through an Instagram link to an interview by Clarice Gargard with adrienne maree brown, both prominent activists I find inspiring. The event falls on the new moon, during my eleven-day period of birthday celebrations and the timing feels too perfect to pass up. I didn’t read much in advance but booked tickets for eight of us, before sending the classic Tikkie link. As we walk, we discuss how none of us know what exactly to expect, apart from gospel choir music. The room we enter is large, three storeys in height with acoustic wood panelling to each wall and black lighting rigs above us. In the centre is a large sculpture; long tubular lights are entangled within a tree, representative of mycelium networks. The sculpture is surrounded on four sides with rows of chairs, and floor cushions in the very centre. The room is virtually full, and we are lucky to find a row of seats at the very back with space to all sit together. As we sit down the lights begin to dim.
This isn’t a performance; it’s a ritual. This is the intention and invitation which adrienne maree brown’s soft voice lays out at the beginning. When we think of a performance there are distinct roles that may begin to appear in our imagination; we may imagine an audience and a performer, seating facing a stage, a separation which the layout and conception of this event immediately questions. adrienne maree brown invites those of us present to engage with this ritual instead, by which she refers to an intentional presence and engagement where however we wish to express ourselves to the soundscape of music, words, and poetry we will experience is accepted. We might sing, dance, stand, stay seated, close our eyes, move towards the centre, get a drink from various water stations around the room, whatever feels right to us as individuals sharing space. We are invited ‘to feel a thing,’ within ourselves and our connections together on this summer’s evening sharing space.
adrienne maree brown begins with words from Octavia Butler, a Black feminist and science fiction writer, including the statement ‘all that you touch you change, all that you change, changes you.’ This sentiment is core to emergent strategy, rooted in the idea that transformation occurs through small changes rooted in trust and connection, as a result of our inherent interrelatedness. Her words are accompanied by soft music before the choir begins the first song. Troy Anthony, director and composer of The Fire Ensemble choir, teaches us the words first, so that we can sing if we choose to. The words of this first song are also based on Octavia Butler’s writing: ‘belief initiates action, or it does nothing at all.’ The song is upbeat with easy-to-follow lyrics and a call and response style that eases inclusion. The energy in the room is excited and a little nervous, we are aware of the sounds of our own voices, how our movement is perceived; we are largely still seated. The song is followed by a harmonising practice, where we are invited to make tones that complement the other voices in the room. Everything feels intentionally created to create interaction and connection, but without pressure to do anything that still feels uncomfortable. It is okay to simply be aware of our awkwardness in a crowded room; we should meet ourselves where we are in the given moment. I find myself avoiding eye contact while I sing; I am not always confident in my own voice.
The evening has a flow that covers a wide array of emotions rooted in experience. There are moments where the entire room sings and dances, people quietly cry, solo singers share their talents, Clarice Gargard shares experiences specific to the Netherlands, a Dutch poet and Winti priestess share their words, and adrienne maree brown shares moments of deep vulnerability, her experiences of grief and violence and hope and possibility. Intimacy is created in a full room of strangers. I found this captured beautifully in the song with lyrics ‘what breaks in you, breaks in me.’ We want to be able to hold each other’s feelings and recognise our own simultaneously. I imagine worlds ending and new worlds being created. adrienne maree brown’s work is always engaged with (re)imagining; in this ritual music becomes a home for sharing emotions, sounds, and stories. Music becomes a way of sharing messages related to belief, change, grief, connection, and hope. Together we experience storytelling combined with a reimagining of gospel music transcending religion, while recognising the power of spirituality and a sense of something greater which bonds us together as humans and more-than-humans. Together with Charlotte Braithwaite, Troy Anthony, The Fire Ensemble, and Queer Choir Amsterdam, adrienne maree brown has created a ritual of emergence, a practice of recognising how small acts can change patterns in the search for healing, justice, and liberation. We walk into a warm summer’s night, onto a deck besides the water with the possibility of transformation within each of us.