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Erick Lorenz shares a story about the inspirational power of Amen.

Submitted by: Erick Lorenz, 7/11/10

This entry relates to the past.

Category(ies) of this entry: Music, New Beginnings, UCDavis, Unforgettable Experiences. 

In 1953 I was a freshman at Davis High (then Davis Joint Union High School) The music teacher was Forrest Honnold who had a talent for organization and good connections.  He led the school band, orchestra, and chorus.  I sang in the chorus.  For a student body of 300+ students the chorus did pretty good to have about 100 members. 

That year the chorus concentrated on what were then called "negro spirituals" and most of the arrangements were by Jester Hairston who was well known in music circles then as the assistant director of the Robert Shaw Chorale.  For our big concert, Mr. Hairston came to Davis to rehearse and the conduct our performance.  He was a dynamic personality and working with him was a blast.  He taught us one more song for an encore, Amen, which he had written and in which he took the lead solo.  It was a big hit with the audience.  Later some of us went to the Pacific Music Clinic where hundreds of high school chorus, orchestra and band members sang and played together in the Stockton Auditorium.  Jester Hairston was the choral director for that event and we sang many of the same spirituals and of course Amen.

Our next big production was the opera Down in the Valley which Kurt Weill wrote using traditional folk songs.  We had trouble with Weill's arrangement of Little Black Train in the church scene.  Someone suggested that we do Amen instead.  We did and the number stopped the show.

In later years those of us with either brass or talent had fun teaching this little known song to groups until the movie Lilies of the Field came out in 1973.  In it Sidney Poitier's character teaches Amen to the nuns he is helping (actually Sidney lip synched to Jester's singing.)  The movie was a hit and Amen became well known and no longer novel.

Jester Hairston came to Davis at least one more time to lead the UCD chorus.  And fittingly he played Rolly Forbes in the TV series Amen.

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