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Singing the blues

To show that sadness is very much part of the human experience, but in such times, faith brings hope.

by Paul Hess

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5

Aims

To show that sadness is very much part of the human experience, but in such times, faith brings hope.

Preparation and materials

  • Youwillneed a recording of a blues song and the means to play it in the assembly. Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Red House’ is used here, but you could use any song that illustrates the conventional blues themes of sadness and longing. Other great examples are BB King’s ‘Lucille’ or ‘The Thrill is Gone’ or Buddy Guy’s ‘Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues’.
  • You will also need the words of Psalm 77 to read out.

Assembly

  1. Play a couple of minutes of ‘Red House’ (or other blues song you have chosen).

    The blues is a very influential musical genre. Many see it as being the starting point for all of pop music and you can hear echoes of the blues in swing, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, R&B and soul music. The Rolling Stones, for example, were inspired by blues artists such as Muddy Waters early in their careers.
  2. The blues has its origins in the songs sung by the slaves in the plantations and reflects the call and response rhythm of those slave songs.

    Because the blues came out of the slave experience, the music is marked by sadness and longing. As we heard in the song we just listened to, the themes are often about lost love and heartbreak or poverty and the hardships of life. In this song, Jimi Hendrix sings of being away for a long time and coming to the ‘Red House’ where his ‘baby lives’, but when he gets there, he finds she is no longer there.

    Many people have found that blues music speaks to them very powerfully because it taps into their own experience of feeling blue, loneliness and suffering. Sadness is part of the human condition – and the blues gives voice to that.
  3. I don’t know if you are aware of it, but the Bible has a book of blues songs – it’s called Psalms. It is a book of poetry that was often set to music and many of the psalms mirror the lyrics of blues music – they talk about experiences of despair, being disheartened, even of feeling let down by God. The psalms are wonderfully honest!

    Listen to these words from Psalm 77:

    I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
    In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
    I think of God, and I moan;
    I meditate, and my spirit faints.

    You keep my eyelids from closing;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak . . .

    Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?
  4. You may well have noticed something else about the blues. Despite the sadness and despair, there is also joy. It is music that has soul and rhythm, gets your feet tapping, makes you want to move and dance. Blues music says that, in the midst of sadness, there is also joy and happiness.

    This is also the message at the heart of the Christian gospel. Yes, times can be tough and we experience suffering, but faith brings with it hope and joy. Faith is about the belief that love will ultimately triumph.

    So, Psalm 77 does not end with words of sadness, but of triumph. The psalmist recalls the time when God led the people from slavery to freedom, through the waters of the Red Sea.  In the midst of the blues, the love of God is victorious.

Time for reflection

Read the following remaining verses from Psalm 77 slowly, pausing to let the students take in the words. You could also project the words so they could see as well as hear them.

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
the very deep trembled . . .

Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Prayer
Dear Lord,
We remember those people who have the blues, who are disheartened or depressed.
May we be messengers of hope to those who feel despair and messengers of joy to those who experience sadness.
Amen.

Publication date: July 2013   (Vol.15 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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