Community Jazz and Beyond - Non-Classical Music Talking about Music Vocal and Choral Music Workshops

Sharing the Tradition

June is African-American Music Appreciation Month and AMN celebrates that Black music is the foundational American music. The centuries-old tradition of singing spirituals has imbued our culture with its fundamental musical character, spreading into the blues and jazz of the early 20th century and beyond, to inspire folk songs, protest songs, and popular music of all kinds. African-American music also excited classical music composers like Dvořák and Debussy, not to mention our home-grown classical artists like Gershwin and Bernstein, inspiring them to incorporate the melodies and rhythmic ideas of Black music into the broad European tradition.

So should all Americans, and non-Americans, too, be able to learn this music and participate with joy in singing spirituals? It seems simple—and yet…

Some of us feel sensitive about these boundaries, and personally I don’t want to misstep. Does it appropriate someone else’s culture to love singing this music? Can those of us outside the tradition join with our fellow Americans in this fundamentally joyous experience without taking anything away from the personal histories of the enslaved people and their descendants who created this music? 

I stopped by the rehearsal for AMN’s Song Circle session featuring Cary Sheldon and Dr. Candace Y. Johnson, and I got to hear them running through the traditional spirituals that we’ll be singing on June 7, and also at AMN’s 3rd annual Juneteenth Choral Celebration on June 19.

We took a quick break to talk for a moment about spirituals, our deep connections to this music, and how we can honor this musical tradition with humility and respect, and with the joy and love that it naturally brings. 

Enjoy this engaging conversation that affirms our love for the music and for singing it together!

Soprano Candace Y. Johnson, DMA, has been on the voice faculty at the University of California-Berkeley since 2009, teaching applied voice classes and a musicology course she designed based on her research and performance of works by African-American composers.

Lolly Lewis is the founder of Amateur Music Network.

June 2023 events with Amateur Music Network

June 7: First Wednesdays Song Circle with Cary Sheldon

June 19: Juneteenth Choral Celebration with Candace Johnson and Kev Choice

AMN mentors Community Talking about Music Vocal and Choral Music Workshops

Meet Song Circle Mentor Cary Sheldon

Old friends are the best! AMN’s Lolly Lewis and her long-time pal Cary Sheldon are thrilled to be collaborating on Song Circle, the new online sing-along event premiering Wednesday, March 1, and returning the first Wednesday of April, May, and June.

Cary’s background is as eclectic as her song choices: Growing up in Cambridge, MA, she was surrounded by music of many styles—in her family of devoted music-lovers, at schools that nourished her natural love of performance, and in a community that supported her musical vitality.

Cary and Lolly got together via Zoom recently to talk about the workshop, to which “Everyone is welcome!”

The workshop format is unique. A small group of singers will convene live in Cary’s living room, while everyone else will sing along online. Cary chose the core repertoire from her huge catalog of songs, making sure to include a variety of styles. She also took care to consider accessibility, that the songs would be fun to sing but not too challenging: The idea is to get to the core experience of singing together. For Cary, singing in community is even more gratifying than solo performance. 

Enjoy their whole conversation in this video! 

Cary shares her evolution as a singer.

We both got a little choked up thinking about how so many people have been told they “can’t sing.” Cary testified to how many of her voice students had been told this, only to find their musical identities could bloom with a little bit of encouragement. Being told you can’t sing to being told your voice—and thus your very self—has no worth.

“Everybody’s voice should be heard!” We want everyone to be able sing freely and experience the joy of music in Song Circle.

“It’s all about connection and reclaiming our mutual love for singing around the campfire.”

Judgment-free zone!

So let’s make new friends and keep the old—bring your loved ones, both near and far, to Song Circle on the first Wednesday of the month. See you March 1!

Community Talking about Music

Share the magic of music

Contribute to a world of shared imaginationin music!

The Amateur Music Network is an open invitation for us all to build human connection through the joy of music. Listening, playing, learning, or sharing music in whatever way you are inspired—the AMN community believes that music changes lives and creates a better world. If you believe that too, and you are able to help us offset the cost of providing workshops at low cost to all who wish to participate, please donate generously today!

As always, we thank you for your support as we continue to offer opportunities for musicians and music lovers everywhere.

Talking about Music

Gratitude for music in 2022

Destiny Muhammad says it best! We are all so grateful for music in our lives.

Once again, AMN is so thankful for all the wonderful folks who have made our workshops so vibrant and nourishing in the past year. From extraordinary mentors like Destiny to all the folks behind the scenes who make the workshops happen, THANK YOU!

As you know, AMN is not just workshops! We are grateful to all the musicians who are reaching out to find one another through our listings. And grateful to be part of a larger community of organizations and individuals who support music and music-making. To all our partners, sponsors, and friends who support our work and engage with us to make it happen. THANK YOU!

AMN needs your help.


AMN aspires to bring musicians from around the world together—to make music, to connect, and to share the transformative power of music. Our participants and mentors hail from across the globe, and we are connecting people one by one. Now we need your generosity and support to continue to bring high quality mentors into the living rooms and practice spaces of amateur musicians. We are committed to broadening our reach—but we can’t do it without your help.

Please join us by donating what you can to this enriching effort. We know we can do it—together!

Chamber Music Community Talking about Music

Music for the Love of It

Below is a guest contribution by violinist Joel Epstein, author of the new book Music for the Love of It: Episodes in Amateur Music-Making

The illustration above is a cartoon by James Gilray from the late 18th century called “A Little Music, or the Delights of Harmony.” It illustrates one of the recurring themes of the bookthat, while in society women may have been subordinate, in the music salon they were more than equals.

As an amateur violinist, I feel—and, I think, most of us feel—that I am carrying on a great tradition reaching back hundreds of years. A few things inspired me to explore that tradition, an exploration which eventually culminated in my book Music for the Love of It: Episodes in Amateur Music-Making.

The first thing that tickled my interest was the dedication on the title page of the Brahms string quartets opus 51: “To Theodor Billroth.” The name was vaguely familiar but I wasn’t sure who Theodor Billroth was. A quick check of Wikipedia revealed that he was a leading physician, an amateur violist, and an intimate friend of Brahms. In a used bookstore I found a collection of Billroth’s and Brahms’s correspondence, which provided a fascinating insight into the composer’s creative mind and the key role the amateur violist played.

The second thing was Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music. This two-volume tome from 1929 I also found in a used bookshop. It is far more than an encyclopedia—it is one man’s personal encomium to the wonders of chamber music. The world of chamber music, Cobbett wrote, “…was an art for which I had a definite affinity. It is not an exaggeration to say that there opened out before me an enchanted world into which I longed to gain an entrance.” The encyclopedia was, like all encyclopedias, erudite, comprehensive, and written by leading experts in the field; on the other hand, it was filled with Cobbett’s own expressions, very personal and very eloquent, of his love for the glories of chamber music.

One thing led to another, and I found myself delving into other episodes of amateur music-making in history: the pivotal role of women in promoting amateur music in America; the brass band movement in Britain, which began as an attempt by moralists and by industrialists to use music to reform retrobates and to quell labor unrest in the coal mines and textile mills of Britain, and ended up as a mass musical movement that swept the country; the romance of Russian Jews of the early 20th century with the violin. In the end, it all started to fit together into a coherent story about the very tradition that we all feel to be our joyful duty to sustain.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of AMN.