Lift Every Voice and Sing

Saturday, June 20, 2020 by Rylin Erickson | Uncategorized

Our grande finale for this afternoon’s online concert is “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Written by a pair of incredibly talented, well respected siblings, James Weldon Johnson & J. Rosamond Johnson, this ode to hope and resilience was premiered by a choir of five hundred children in 1900, became the official song of the NAACP in 1919, and occupies a place of honor in American culture as the Black National Anthem. Just yesterday, representing almost every state in the U.S. as well as several other countries, thousands of people sang it together in an online forum in celebration of Juneteenth!

It is essential that the pieces we perform be firmly rooted in healthy soil. Many well known popular and folk songs are stained with prejudice, bigotry, and racism. Setting aside music we may have previously enjoyed but can no longer stomach after learning of its background or lyrics is important work. It is common to feel frustration or sorrow at the onset of this process, a small disappointment that obviously pales in comparison to the harm these contaminated works cause when they are presented anywhere outside of a history lesson and one which is swiftly replaced by the joy of accomplishing one small piece of an enormous project and by doing so moving into better alignment with our moral compass.

Luckily, there is no shortage of beloved songs created throughout our nation’s history that are worthy of a brighter spotlight. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a wonderful example, with its rhythmic pulse, strong word painting, and enduring significance. I loved singing this song in choirs growing up and was looking forward to performing it with students this summer in a little local parade. While the pandemic postponed that plan, the ongoing protests that are bringing racism to the forefront of mainstream awareness prompted me to introduce this anthem to all of my students without delay.

Our online format, which initially felt limiting, has been a profound invitation to dive both deeper and wider in our studies. We have listened to a wide variety of recordings, dissected various musical elements, discussed historical context, and brainstormed ways to effectively address injustice individually, as a community, and on a global scale. In these conversations, I was struck by the younger students’ clarity and wisdom, by the teens’ fierce rejection of the status quo and spirited vision for the future, by the adults’ openness and support, and by how well students of all ages noticed, responded to, and precisely articulated the song’s nuanced emotional timbre. 

If you are not yet familiar with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” or would like to hear it again, check out our playlist below to listen to a diverse collection of recordings! This is a powerful anthem that seems to encourage interpretation and revisitation by being unusually adaptable to almost any tempo, register, and instrumentation. The words and music both exquisitely capture hope rising out of grief in a way that has resonated with listeners for 120 years and counting.

Whether this song is an old favorite or brand new to you, may it serve as a musical talisman as we each individually and collectively grapple with the realities of racial injustice.

Black Lives Matter

Tuesday, June 9, 2020 by Rylin Erickson | Uncategorized

Black lives matter.

Black families matter. 

Black musicians matter. 

Elizabeth Erickson, KnightLizard Music studio, and Uncaged Musicians classes are strongly committed to protesting racism and police brutality and working towards social justice and the deep systemic change that requires.

Decolonizing our studio, which has previously been a long-term goal producing incremental change, is now receiving the majority of our efforts and will see improvement more swiftly as a result. Decolonization by its very nature produces an environment that more effectively serves each individual, which is particularly crucial for our BIPOC students, LGBTQ+ students, neuro-diverse students, and students with disabilities.

Because of this priority in combination with our pandemic-induced online study, current students may experience format changes more frequently than usual, always preserving their right to direct their personal study and collaborate on their vision for group study which is an integral part of decolonization. Our usual annual interview is happening in private lessons this week and includes questions that will help dial in what is working best and should be preserved and where there is ambivalence and therefore a perfect area for targeted innovation.

To allow for optimal focus on decolonization, we do not plan to accept new students until fall. To join our waiting list, fill out the registration form on our website: or visit the MusicLink Foundation to apply for a need-based scholarship:

Prospective students please reach out with any questions prior to registration. Because we may be changing structure more frequently than usual this summer it is likely that our public website and Facebook page will sometimes temporarily lag behind in order to prioritize keeping the areas current students use (private online portal and private Facebook group) up to date. Your understanding and patience are appreciated!

I'd like to end with a quote from Shinichi Suzuki. This brilliant pedagogue created the Suzuki method in the aftermath of World War II and believed deeply in music's potential to preserve our humanity. He also tried to emphasize that each teacher continue the work he started and adapt their approach to suit their students, a belief that is at the core of my own philosophy.

"Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens.* If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. They get a beautiful heart." 

- Shinichi Suzuki

* I would replace the word "citizens" with "humans"