Raise Every Voice

THE ROCHES, SISTERS Suzzy, Terre, and Maggie, have long been
acclaimed for the captivating harmonies of their singing. But now
they realize what music really is: a form of prayer.

Suzzy and Maggie’s new CD, a compilation of sung prayers called
Zero Church (Red House Records), was scheduled to be released the
day airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon,
and the Pennsylvania countryside. Instead of lining up promotional
gigs, Suzzy found herself writing a song to perform at a benefit
concert for a Brooklyn firehouse that had lost 12 men. “I didn’t
have a clue what I was going to sing,” Suzzy tells Kathleen Warnock
in the music zine ROCKRGIRL (Spring/Summer 2002).
“None of the prayers on Zero Church were right for it, and I
actually prayed for a prayer. It had to be something soothing. ‘New
York City’ was the gentlest, most open thing I’ve ever written. In
a way it is the first folk song I ever wrote. . . . People need
that music.”

So they added it to the album, capping an emotional journey that
began nearly two years earlier with an invitation to Suzzy from
playwright/scholar Anna Deveare Smith to study at Harvard. They put
together a six-week residency with a number of artists and scholars
to explore the idea of prayer.

“We had very concentrated, highly intellectual discussions about
art, race, diversity, tolerance, and rage,” Roche recalls. “The
people were from all different backgrounds.” And they came with all
sorts of prayers–about [gay-bashing victim] Matthew Shepard, about
Vietnam, about slavery in the Sudan–which Suzzy collected and, with
Maggie’s help, put to music. “We were like midwives,” Suzzy says.
“We ushered it into the world.”

The result is a recording of remarkable power and emotion, a
work that Suzzy says has taken her out of isolation: “It’s leading
me to unexpected places…. It’s been a lesson on how to really tap
into other people and what their concerns are.”

Craig Cox is executive editor of Utne.

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