Higher Ground,” a student-created musical, will debut this Saturday, March 1, at 7 p.m. in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. This musical seeks to establish the legacy of gospel music through a powerful synthesis of student actors, choreographers from Stanford’s dance department, the student a capella group Talisman, a choir from San Jose and deep historical research.
The piece travels through time and space to the antebellum American South, various revival periods of the 20th century on the West Coast, the Gospel Golden Age, apartheid in South Africa and current narratives of justice influenced by that musical power.
While that breadth constitutes a lot of ground to cover in one performance, embodying versatility is a core tenet of gospel music. It has delivered praise, accompanied work, honored burial, comforted grief, planned escape, spread knowledge and still finds meaning within the heart of a 21st century listener.
This is one of our country’s first art forms— these songs have initiated and elevated social movements from every era and location. Yet a real understanding of the gravity of gospel music’s history is missing from the immediate recognition you feel when you hear “This Little Light of Mine.”
Jessica Anderson ’14 has sought to address this void. Having sung for over a decade, from theatre to jazz, her musical style arises from a “large medley of sounds.” At Stanford, Anderson has directed the Gospel Choir and starred in “The Color Purple.” Creation, to Anderson, has been a continuous part of life, choreographing entire shows to Stevie Wonder albums as a little girl.
This Saturday’s performance will demonstrate that Anderson has found not only a place to pursue art but also to create it, featuring her own talent as a performer but also tokens from various experiences— from connecting with former members of the Committee for Black Performing Arts to academic research— spanning her time at Stanford.
“A major lesson I learned was there is a way to pay homage to people,” Anderson explained. “One way is to play up individual strength, reminding them of their own worth.”
Make it out to Dinkelspiel Auditorium on Saturday at 7 p.m. Get there early, as it’s first-come, first-show. Allow the experience to find you, question you, move you. Because this is what Stanford is about— loving, seeking experiences to pursue that love, synthesizing findings around it, and producing a collaborative whole to honor it. So whether you are currently writing a term paper or founding a start-up, come take part in Anderson’s legacy of the power in intentional connection.
Contact Elizabeth Woodson at ewoodson “at” stanford.edu.