For Harriet Tubman and the thousands of slaves who escaped through the Underground Railroad, music was a language - used to send signals and directions about where and when to escape.
Communication through music during slavery is just one subject that will be touched on during "Harriet Tubman: Bound for the Promised Land," a 15-piece Jazz Oratorio, on Feb. 10 at Peace Lutheran Church's celebration of Black History Month.
The Jazz Orchestra will tell the story of Tubman's journey, written by Stanford University's Marcus Shelby, one of the Bay Area's premier bass players.
"It's utterly unique," said the Rev. Steve Harms, senior pastor of Peace Lutheran Church.
While teaching at the university, Shelby created a curriculum that explored Tubman's connection to early jazz roots through field hollers, work songs, ring shouts and the blues. And he was struck by what a profound role music played in assisting the escape.
"All of these clues were being given through songs," Harms explained.
Today, music can be used as "an awakening," Harms said, a reminder that we are glad to be alive. It's a form of preaching and one way to connect to God, he said.
"Music sustained the spirits of these folks," Harms said of the slaves. "It stirs the heart. That has to be nurtured constantly, otherwise it becomes stale."
The free event will be held at Peace Lutheran Church, 3201 Camino Tassajara, at 5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 10. For more information, call 648-7000 or visit www.peacejourney.org.
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