VOICES: ‘Musical missionary’ engages neglected and forgotten through music

Editor’s Note: This is part of a monthly series from Rodney Veal that shares insights and stories from artists and creatives from all corners of our community. As the host of ThinkTV/CET Connect for nine years and a lifelong artist in his own right, Veal has a front-row seat to the impact our arts community has on the wellbeing of our region. With this series, Ideas & Voices hopes to inspire readers to pursue their own creative endeavors and to support those who make our community better through their artistic contributions.

While scrolling through my Facebook news feed a few days ago, I saw a notice highlighting World Sarcoidosis Day. I paused for a moment, having not thought about it in a while.

It has been just over twelve years since my diagnosis; I contracted this auto-immune that wreaked havoc on my liver and digestive system, which led to a recovery process so intense that I regained sixty pounds that had been lost as my body was shutting down.

I was consumed by an unshakeable faith and desire to live just a little bit longer. For two years, I didn’t dance, craft works of art, or even consider any creativity at all. The only solace I was granted was listening to an eclectic music playlist that included songs that ranged from Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings to the Aretha Franklin catalog. The sweeping sound of the Georgia Mass Choir backing Whitney Houston gave me hope for more time to experience the electricity of creating, the vitality of collaborating and connecting with other kindred spirits and artists who know the power of art to change the world. Hearing Jessye Norman sing, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” became the sound that healed this broken body and restored my faith. Music can truly save lives and heal.

The World House Choir, under the direction of Dr. Cathy Roma, is proving this point and has been for over twelve years. Under her direction, The World House Choir has brought together folks from all parts of the community, believing that music can motivate and inspire our community to seek peace, justice and equality. People from all walks of life come together at Antioch College, joining their voices in a life-affirming chorus that celebrates our humanity and the power of connectivity. To be in the presence of Dr. Roma is to encounter a true force of nature and a purpose-driven spirit who can move mountains in the pursuit of a higher calling. I’ve had the tremendous privilege of hearing the choir in action on numerous occasions. Each time, I came away from each performance inspired and engaged, just a little less cynical and more empowered by hope.

If her work with the World Choir wasn’t impressive enough, she has for decades worked with the incarcerated and often marginalized people held in our prison systems. Cathy has become a musical missionary, seeking to engage the neglected and forgotten and giving them their voices back through music. She is restoring their humanity and, in turn, ours. Redemption through art and music is possible and necessary in these increasingly turbulent times.

Cathy and I recently had a chance to catch up over lunch and share projects we are working on and how our lives are going. We talked about the power of the new Beyonce Album, the activism of Bayard Rustin and the latest concert coming at the end of the month, “Weather: Stand the Storm,” which is being performed and presented at the Foundry Theatre in Yellow Springs. We laughed, shared notes, and dreamed of future music and dance collaborations. Just like listening to the World Choir, our conversation elevated my spirits. As I drove away to my next appointment, I thought about the restorative power of my musical playlist in healing from Sarcoidosis, and a thought flashed through me: What if everyone had access to a collective restoration through the power of music? To see the power of community in action? In a few weeks, everyone in our community will have that opportunity to be inspired and hopeful.

Rodney Veal is the host of thinkTV/CET Connect and President of the board of OhioDance.

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