The Official Site for David Freeman Coleman

The Official Site for David Freeman Coleman
a.k.a. Funkyman

Did He Ever Talk About . . . ?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Olympus is Soaring

My fellow Funkmericans,

In December 2011, a good friend and colleague of mine was invited to bring her choir to the White House to perform.  She directs a fabulous youth chorus, and there was no doubt in my mind that the first family enjoyed the warmth and inspiration these young people provided.  A few months later, she suggested that I apply as well.

I believed that the good vibes that were generating from the Tufts University Gospel Choir would resonate in D.C. and would interest the White House.  The choir had grown to over 225 members a semester, been featured on the BBC, and had been voted as one of the top 5 courses at Tufts.   So I filled out an application for a White House performance in July of 2012.  There was no response.  Until . . .

In November of 2014, I received an e-mail extending an invitation for Tufts Gospel Choir to perform during the holiday celebrations at the White House.  The catch was I could only bring 20 members of the choir.  Difficult as it was, with aid from section leaders, I chose 20 students to represent the choir.  The White House asked us to sing two 45-60 minute sets of music.  That’s a lot of music.  Between November 21 and December 2, the 20-voice choir was able to do 4 rehearsals, learning holiday music from around the world - England, Italy, Caribbean Islands, Israel, Liberia, South Africa, and of course, America.  The gospel songs, however, were our showstoppers, and we had plenty of them.   In total, we had 17 pieces ready to go.

Thanks to the generosity of the Tufts Music Department and the Provost’s office, we flew to Washington D.C. on December 2nd.  Our hotel granted us permission to use a conference room as a rehearsal space, and we got in our last 2-hour rehearsal.  The following day, several people took advantage of the morning hours and visited a monument or two and the Smithsonian.  We had a wonderful lunch at Busboys and Poets (highly recommend), and then our bus took us to the White House gate.

After arriving at the White House, security clearance took about 45 minutes (a K-9 unit dog had to sniff my keyboard case!).   We were given a holding room and a few minutes to freshen up.  (Lots of holiday cookies and bottles of water.  Yay!)  Then we were taken to our performance space.  They provided choral risers (Yay!), and lucky for me I brought a battery-operated keyboard, because there was little access to electricity. 

We began singing around 4:15 p.m. and sang non-stop until about 5:30 p.m.  Whew!  Hundreds of guests were arriving for the party and stopping to take photos and videos of the choir.  Some even dared to clap along!  After the singing marathon, we were allowed to take a break, and that’s when we got the news – we were going to be able to do a private performance for the First Lady!  We were going to get to meet her, get a photo for the group, and perform a 60-second excerpt from one of our songs.  I knew which song to do almost immediately.

“He Holds My Hand” is a song I arranged in 1999 after the Columbine High School Massacre.   The words of the hymn strike to the core of our journey in confusing, dark, and troubling times – “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand.  But I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know Who holds my hand.”  At the end of the song, we grab hands and raise them in unison – displaying that not only does God hold our hand, but we have each other to hold and let God love through us.   After our performance, Michelle Obama gave me a hug, and I was able to thank her personally for the work she does with fitness and nutrition, as I have lost over a 100 pounds in my continuing journey of good health.  She was exceptionally sweet to every one of the choir members, greeting them and encouraging them for the upcoming final exams.  We could not have a more outstanding First Lady.

Then we were back to work for a 30-minute gospel jam session, while guests from the party were on their way out.  This time, dozens of people stood and cheered us on while we sang full energy.  And yes, I rapped.  When we finished, we packed up, headed back to our bus, got to the airport, and made our flight home.  The whole way home, we were aglow from the day.  It truly was a chance of a lifetime to share something we love in such a place of history.  An honor.  Truly.  We were allowed to take the sign home that had our name on it.  The choir wanted me to have it, and I’m going to frame it and put it in my office at home.

I learned only 14 ensembles are chosen each year to do this, and we were the only gospel choir this year.  That’s surreal, but I’ll close by saying that this is not about being exalted, this is about being in position.  When I left the Boston University Gospel Choir in 2003 after 10 years as the director, there was an absence in my life. When the opportunity came to lead a college gospel choir again, I took the position of Lecturer of Music at Tufts University in 2006 because I was not whole without this exercise of ministry in my life.  I don’t direct the Tufts Gospel Choir for any other reason than it’s where I’m called to be – the work I do each semester is life-giving for the students and for me.  I found a way to worship and minister in an area specific to my life that also bore fruit in the lives of others – wouldn’t you stay there too? 

Since then, the choir’s growth, popularity, attention in the media are only side effects of the real story – people are thirsty for spirituality, thirsty for an encounter with God, thirsty to share, grow, and relate with an experience that may not be their own – whether it be African-American worship styles, Christianity, or just being in a large choir.  My position here has connected me to opportunities to work on Broadway, be on television, and now perform songs (even my own music!) at the White House.  These experiences humble me.  As I sit typing this, I am quiet and still at how God is blessing me, and it makes me energized to give more next semester. 

Thank you to everyone who encouraged and supported me and the choir during this special event.  Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  

- Funkyman

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How I Met Aerosmith

Hello Funkysmiths!

Today on The Adventures of Funkyman, we will actually have an adventure of Funkyman.  True story.

I have always been amazed at how life presents opportunities.  The things that you involve yourself with - if you do them from the heart and do them well - will take you places you could never imagine.  As Ashton Kutcher recently put it - opportunities look a lot like hard work.  Well, for me, hard work in college meant being a church musician on the weekends.  Who would have thought in a few short years after working in a church, I would be talking face to face with Steve Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith about playing with them on tour?  Well here's how it happened.

- I came to Boston University to study music.
- My brother was already a student at MIT.
- He told me about a job opening for the MIT Gospel Choir.  I got the job.
- The former musician was the director of music at a church in Cambridge, and he offered me a job there too.
- One of the choirs at that church was an all men's chorus, where I met some men who were in another group of their own called Revelation.  I got to be their musician as well.
- Revelation sang in concerts all over town.
- The House of Blues in Harvard Square was created and they quickly established a Sunday tradition:  the House of Blues Sunday Gospel Brunch.  They were looking for local artists to provide the music.
- The coordinator of the brunch was an old church member most of the guys in Revelation knew.
- He came to one of our rehearsals to audition us, and he gave us a spot to be the music artist on one Sunday.

OK, caught up to speed?  So here I was, still in college, and working on the weekends as a church musician.  Next thing I know, I'm on stage at the House of Blues.  We sang two sets that day.  During the beginning of the second set . . .

Me:  "Hey guys, I think that's Steve Tyler in the audience."

Yes, Steve Tyler and Joe Perry were having brunch at the House of Blues that Sunday.  So what did I do?  I PLAYED THAT PIANO LIKE IT WAS THE LAST TIME I WOULD GET A CHANCE. 

I mean, I always played with enthusiasm.  It's gospel music for goodness' sake.  However, I admit to being a little self-centered thinking that these special audience members might notice me.

And they did.

After our set was done, they both came right to the stage, shook my hand, and said "Man you're amazing."  I almost died.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I said "Hey do you guys need a keyboard player?"

They said, "No but thanks."

AND SCENE >  > >

Hope I didn't lead you on to think I actually got to play with them on tour.  Yeah, that was my brief introduction and even shorter farewell with the world famous musicians from Boston.  However, it's still a cool story, and it at least taught me that if you do what you love and do it well - AMAZING things and people are possible.

And you know what?  That chance to play with them on tour may still happen.  You just never know.  Back to my hard work . . .

- Funkyman

Friday, August 23, 2013

Racism 101

Greetings Funklers, I am back! 

I can't lie that racism has been on my mind.  It's been on yours too unless you're kidding yourself.  Between the Zimmerman trial, Paula Deen, Oprah Winfrey, and the recent success of The Butler - racism is a subject that, contrary to popular thought, cannot and should not be ignored. 

However, the root of the frustration around talking about it is a lack of basic understanding around the language.  Here are 15 facts to help anyone get started in a real dialogue about race - in America, or anywhere else.

1.  On earth, there are several species of living things.  Of the species known as homo-sapien, or human beings, there are no real sub-sets of the species, meaning there is only one real race.

2.  However, these divisions that we refer to as "races" are a sociological construct created in academia to help record/describe the differences in people that highlight geography, skin pigmentation, and culture.  Because of history and habitat, minor physical attributes/qualities have been observed and used to classify 4 basic groups of humans - Caucasoid (European descent/White people), Negroid (African descent/Black people), Mongoloid (Asian/Native Americans), and Australoid (Indian/Aborigines).

3.  Prejudice is making a judgment/decision about someone/something before knowing anything about them.

4.  Racial prejudice is a judgment made about someone based on their "race" or stereotypes related to it, regardless of one's individuality as a person.

5.  Everyone has the capacity to be prejudiced.  Everyone has the capacity to be racially prejudiced.

6.  Racism is different from racial prejudice.  Racism is the systematic use of racial prejudice by people in positions of power/authority in order to hold back/hurt an entire community of a different "race."  This can be manifested in several ways - genocide, rape, slavery, poverty, segregation, disenfranchisement.

7.  By this definition, because of America's history, Caucasoid is the established race in positions of power - politically and financially.  Though racists in America are Caucasoid, not all members of the Caucasoid "race" are racially prejudiced. 

8.  The ideas of "racism" and "racial prejudice" are often confused and used interchangeably, causing all kinds of confusion, debate, and stress among generations of Americans.

9.  Even though members of the Caucasoid "race" may not feel racially prejudiced, they do benefit from the system and the spoils of racism, and therefore have privilege - whether recognized or ignored by the individual.

10.  The greatest privilege of being Caucasoid is the ability to be judged as an individual and not have it reflect on the entire "race".  His/her actions are their own, and this is true freedom - "to be judged not by the color of their skin, but on the content of their character."  (MLK Jr.)

11.  Most racism persists in America because the majority of members of the Caucasoid "race" do not recognize the existence of their privilege and therefore wield no power to use it to combat racism.

12.  The key to assisting in the healing of racism's effects is education.  We need to continue to educate with true history, definitions of words, and communication about current events.  An educated person of privilege is an invaluable weapon.

13.  The racial prejudice that exists in the non-Caucasoid "races" is immense.  Whether reactionary or justified, in the end it cripples the individual and the community simultaneously. 

14.  It is impossible to discuss matters of race without sensitivity and intelligence.  Sensitivity comes from having an open heart to others' suffering and experiences.  Intelligence comes from being educated.

15.  Share your knowledge and experience.  Even if we can't erase racism, we can die fighting it.

It would be my honor to fight with you.

- Funkyman

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

It's Time! 2013 Edition

Hello Funkyfilmgoers!

Yes, it's that time AGAIN!!!  Summer is nigh, and Hollywood has prepared a buffet extraordinaire of sumptuous movie delicacies that we consumers will gorge on even before they hit theaters.  Everyone I know, young and old, is particularly excited about this summer's offerings.  Let's do a run down of the movies that excite the fans the most - meaning they will either be huge successes if they're good or massive FAILS if not.  Here we go!


May 3 - Iron Man 3
I've already seen this movie, and without doing a complete review (check back soon), I will say it's better than the last one.  Let's face it, everyone loves Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. is worth watching even if it's not great.  Fortunately for us, Iron Man and the Avengers are the kind of magic you can't buy.

May 10 - The Great Gatsby
Leo!!!  Leo!!!  Enough said.  He's the only reason people are talking about this new rendition of the classic novel.  I'm sure girls everywhere will relive their childhood Titanic romance all over again.  I, for one, like Baz Luhrman.  A great director worthy of a summer movie.  I will definitely check this out.

May 10 - Tyler Perry presents Peeples
I am not seeing this movie because of Tyler Perry (whom I have a love/hate relationship with), but because of the comic genius of Craig Robinson and my friend David Alan Grier (Porgy & Bess woo hoo!) who guarantee this to be funny, even if the move isn't great.  Want to laugh, we should probably check this out.

May 17 - Star Trek:  Into Darkness
Star Trek.  Be there.  Is there anything else to say?

May 24 - EPIC
Summer blockbuster CGI animation often promises that it's something the filmmakers are proud of.  With this all star cast (including Beyonce?), it may be just that.  One can only hope.  Cars 2 was a debacle.

May 24 - Fast and Furious 6
Fast cars, girls, and faster cars.  I honestly can't believe we're on number 6 in this series, but the preview looks SO GOOD.  This may be a win.

May 24 - The Hangover:  Part III
I'm still laughing from the first one, so I'll forgive the retread that was Part II.  Maybe this will have something new for us to call a classic.  Maybe.

May 31 - After Earth
Will Smith and his son Jayden do big sci-fi in this survival epic.  Yes it looks awesome doesn't it?  But why don't they advertise the fact that the direct is M. Night Shyamalan?  Well folks, that's because almost every one of his last 5 movies have been horrendous.  I can't believe a big name like Will Smith would risk a big movie like this with this director, but hey, maybe there's redemption in store.  I pray.

June 7 - The Internship
Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson reunited from Wedding Crashers to send up Google and internet geeks.  I don't care what anyone says, Vince Vaughan is one of those actors that make me laugh no matter what he's in, and I'll see it.  Fortunately for me, he's often in really good material.  OK, I'll forgive the Psycho remake.  Ouch, that was bad.

June 7 - Tiger Eyes
No, this is not a big movie.  No big stars.  Just sending a shout-out to the Judy Blume fans out there!  Yay!  Tiger Eyes!

June 12 - This is the End
Speaking of funny . . . Seth Rogen and basically everyone who's ever been in a Judd Apatow film collaborate to make an armageddon comedy.  If you've seen the trailer, you know this is absolutely bananas.  I CAN'T WAIT.

June 14 - Man of Steel
The only reason to live until the second week of June.  OK, that's dramatic.  But people keep asking me if I'm excited about the new Superman movie, as if they don't know who I am.  YOU KNOW WHO I AM!!!!    Yes I'm excited.  DUH!  OMG!  IT BETTER BE GOOD THOUGH!!!!

June 21 - Monsters University
Once upon a time, I would caption any Pixar movie by just saying "Pixar. 'nuff said."  Well, after Cars 2, I changed my tune.  However, it is Pixar and their track record is pretty solid.  Monsters is a great movie.  Let's pray they did it again.

From here to the end, I can summarize these movies in very few words . . .

June 21 - World War Z
Brad Pitt and zombies.

June 28 - The Heat
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in a buddy cop flick.  Yes, this could be awesome.

June 28 - White House Down
Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx save the White House and America. 

July 3 - Despicable Me 2
Minions.  Yay.

July 3 - Kevin Hart:  Let Me Explain
If you don't think Kevin Hart is funny, unlike my page.  :-)

July 3 - Lone Ranger
Johnny Depp is Tonto.  Cultural insensitivity alert.  Let's hope for the best.

July 12 - Grown Ups 2
Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade at it again.

July 12 - Pacific Rim
Get your IMAX 3D glasses ready.  Giant robots, Idris Elba.  Yes.

July 17 - Turbo
Dreamworks CGI about a racing snail.  Zzzzz.   Zzzzz.  OK, it might be fun for the family.

July 19 - R.I.P.D.
Jeff Bridges & Ryan Reynolds as gun-wielding ghost killers.  And Kevin Bacon is the villain?  One ticket please.

July 19 - Red 2
Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, & John Malkovich at it again as Retired but Extremely Dangerous.

July 19 - The Conjuring
Horror movie.  50/50 chance of failing.

July 26 - The Wolverine
Wolverine sells himself.

July 31 - The Smurfs 2
Could it be worse than the first one?  Yes.

August 2 - 2 Guns
Denzel Washington and Mark Walhberg in a crime thriller.

August 2 - 300:  Rise of An Empire
Without the original cast (because they all died in the first movie), this has the potential to be scary bad.

August 7 - Percy Jackson:  Sea of Monsters
Now that Harry Potter is done, it's Percy's time.  The 1st one was good!

August 9 - Disney's Planes
Pixar again.  Do we need talking planes.  Is this overkill?

August 9 - Elysium
Matt Damon looking bad-ass as ever.

August 16 - Kick-Ass 2
Must-see movie sequel.  Let's pray it lives up to the excellence of the 1st.

See you at the movies!

- Funkyman

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Weak" Days

"I've been away for a long time,
But now I'm back and ready to start again.
If you're wondering what's been on my mind,
All I can say is I was lost, but now I'm ready to win.
Sometimes along the way we fall and get off track,
But I'm back!"

- excerpt from "I'm Back" from the yet-to-be-finished musical Group Therapy by David F. Coleman

My dear Funkstonians,

I write to you today filled with love, peace, frustration, anger, and joy ALL at the same time because that's what a day in the life of Funky . . . anyone can be like.  I go through phases of peace in my day, and then . . . someone says something that drives me nuts!

You:  Like what?

Me:  I'm so glad you asked!  Let's just take this week alone.

Sunday, April 14:  My gospel ensemble, Confirmation sang at Simmons College for their African-American Alumnae Weekend.  They had an inspirational weekend of women inspiring women, and it closed with a Gospel Brunch.  My group was blessed to be there, and we were told the people were blessed by our music ministry.  A good day.  Amen.

Monday, April 15:  While sitting peacefully on duty at school, I get a phone call from my sister-in-law in Pennsylvania asking if I'm OK.  As I learn why she's calling, moments later I too watch in horror on my computer as the news media plays the footage of the bombings over and over.  The cloud I was on before has sunk a little bit and gotten darker.

Tuesday, April 16:  Taking my daughter to school, I'm listening to talk radio and hear a woman ranting and raving of how cold and heartless President Obama was in his remarks on the Boston bombing.  "He hates this country!"  "He's going to use this for political gain."  "What is wrong with this man?" 


It's times like these that I cry racism.  People say they're not racist, but they're so blinded by their hate, they can't call a spade a spade.  (True, I admit - bad choice of words)

If Obama had shed a tear - "He's a wuss."  If Obama sounds somber and solemn - "He's a heartless cold man."  There's no winning.  But don't get me wrong.  Not everyone who dislikes Obama is a racist.  However, I can tell the ones that are because they have NOTHING, I mean NOTHING positive at all to say about him, and that isn't fair on any logical spectrum.  But I digress.

Back to the regularly scheduled adventure of Funkyman.

Wednesday, April 17:  For a case that could understandably take weeks or months to solve, the 24-hour news cycle is in a frenzy over getting the scoop on the leads surrounding finding a suspect.  Misinformation goes out about a suspect, about an arrest, about what he looks like, and everyone is gathering around the court house, their televisions, and their computers hoping to catch a glimpse of the "dark skinned" (oops) suspect as reported on CNN.  Turns out, hey, there's no arrest made.  There's no suspect in custody.  Massive media fail.  Turn off the news already and let the investigators do their job.

Meanwhile, I read about "the church that shall not be named" and their plans to come to Boston to protest the funerals of those killed because this was all God's wrath for allowing same-sex marriages.


I can't.  I just can't sometimes. 

Thursday, April 18:  Interfaith Service in Boston.  Moving speeches by several individuals, most notably our mayor, our governor, and our president.

I hear a woman complain about Obama - "He didn't really say anything."  Insert scream here.

I read about atheists upset they were not represented in the service.  - WAIT.  For years atheists educate us that atheism is not a religion, not a belief system, not a philosophy, etc.  Now they complain that they're left out of an interFAITH service?  Make up your minds.  By the way, there are dozens of religions that were not represented at the service.  But they're not complaining.  Hey, it's not about representing everyone.  It's about manifesting the representation of all people who can often disagree coming together to agree.

OK, my rant is done for now.  I want to return to my state of peace and joy that I felt after Sunday before the events of this week began.  Maybe Friday I'll stop reading blogs and newsfeeds.

I have been away from blogging for so long to due to SO many life circumstances.  I pray I can get back into the groove. 

I have lots of good stuff to share.

Funk on!

- Funkyman