The Rev. Robert Jones brought spirituals, gospel and the blues to Voice Works in Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

The Rev. Robert Jones brought spirituals, gospel and the blues to Voice Works in Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Voices, stomps and grace

I’M LOOKING FOR hope and energy, some way to keep my spirits up amid the news cycle.

I found it at Fort Worden State Park during Voice Works, Centrum’s summer camp for singers — and anybody with a voice.

Day one began with artistic director Pharis Romero of Horsefly, B.C., and her “Joy of Singing Skills.”

The workshop might’ve been called “Life Skills,” with Romero’s advice about drinking three liters of water daily and loosening the body in the morning with hip swivels and shoulder shimmies.

And when you want to be subtle, “Don’t whisper. Just speak gently.”

More vocal warmups: Sing to me, she said: “I love you so,” while circling your hips. Then “Deep, blue sea, baby, deep blue sea.” It’s impossible to feel bad right now. This no longer feels like a roomful of strangers.

An afternoon class on gospel and spirituals carried things forward. The Rev. Robert Jones of Detroit led the way with “In Dat Great Gittin’ up Morning,” with him describing the path to divine communion and us responding, “Fare you well, fare you well!”

“Let the song wash over you,” the reverend said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Music, he added, has helped people live through the worst times. People use songs to relieve pressure on soul and body, and to grieve; grief is a good thing, Jones said. It gets the bottled-up stuff out.

His fellow Voice Works faculty member Dawn Pemberton of Vancouver, B.C., is a living vessel of joy.

She taught classes on Motown and soul singing, plus one called “Sing, Stomp, Clap: Singing Rhythms and Body Percussion.”

We learned to use hands and feet as accompaniment for “Wade in the Water,” then did a polyrhythmic dance to the chant “Thank you for the boogie ride.”

“If you can’t sing, just stomp,” Pemberton said, “and listen. Eventually things will start to seep in together.” As in life.

Pemberton, Jones, Romero and other Voice Works faculty from around North America capped the week with a showcase performance Friday night.

It was one of many jazz, bluegrass, blues and Americana concerts Centrum will present at Fort Worden through the summer (see

For her first number, Pemberton stepped to the microphone to sing a cappella.

This one, she told us, came into her mind as she traveled from her home in Canada to Washington state.

Written by Oscar Brown Jr., it was a song calling to be sung:

Brown baby …

As years go by

I want you to go with your head up high

I want you to live by the justice code

And I want you to walk down freedom’s road

Little brown baby …

Lie away sleeping lie away safe in my arms

Till your daddy and your mama protect you and keep you safe from harm

… When out of men’s heart all hate is hurled

Sweetie you gonna live in a better world

Cathy Jordan sang to us too, about the people who left her native Ireland for the United States. Like the spirituals sung by African American slaves, the emigrants’ songs were about faith in a black night. Jordan dedicated her music “to those who are suffering, and trying to find a new home somewhere else.”

Jones was the final performer in Friday’s concert. With his rich, booming voice, he made sure everybody joined him aboard the train of hope. With conviction, he sang out:

We shall overcome

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

We shall overcome some day.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be July 18.

Reach her at

Pharis Romero teaches “The Joy of Singing Skills” during Port Townsend’s Voice Works camp. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Pharis Romero teaches “The Joy of Singing Skills” during Port Townsend’s Voice Works camp. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

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