Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, June 19, 2006

my son with his paternal grandparents and cousins a couple days ago

Musical moments from the trip to Michigan


Hearing a muzak version of "Paint It Black" in the small-town grocery store: terrific.


A Sunday afternoon brass band concert in the downtown square of Kalamazoo. The usual fare of "light classics," Sousa, and show tune medleys, with some Brazilian tunes thrown in for spice. "Stars and Stripes Forever" made me tear up. What could be more (whitebread) American than Sousa on a Sunday afternoon on the town square? It's a powerful piece of music, but it's probably the wealth of attendant associations that got me. The myth of American justice has always been underwritten by imperial wealth stolen from the Native Americans, the African slaves and their descendants, and, today, the disenfranchised subjects of 3rd World despots working in poverty to provide us with cheap imports, as well as the disenfranchised "illegal" immigrants working in poverty to fatten the bottom lines of local businesses. Despite that, I still believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the first, fourth, ninth, tenth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and nineteenth amendments; and justice for all -- the idea of America, the ideals of America. ("Peter Bailey was a man of high ideals, so called" -- Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life.") The reality falls short. I can understand why some people may hear in Sousa only the betrayal of the ideals and the jingoism of empire, but I still hear the ideals. And it was a beautiful afternoon as my son napped on a blanket and my spouse and I quietly chatted.


Earlier that day I had gone to church to hear my friend the 60-something radical preacher preach. (I have blogged about our friendship before.) He rocked it again. The topic was politics and religion. "Those who don't believe that politics should mix with religion should take their Bibles out of the pews and rip all of the prophets out." I asked him later if he had been responding to criticism that his sermons were too political, and he said, no, he was backing up his colleague Kevin, whose Easter sermon had talked about the recent extradition by the U.S. government of prisoners to allied countries that would torture them, and compared this action to that of the Jews who handed Jesus over to the Romans because they lacked legal authority to kill him themselves. The comparison had upset and angered people. "You ruined my Easter," someone had said. I don't know Kevin that well. He always struck me as a very sweet, mild-mannered man. Which he is -- and also a radical.

The choir sang a lilting Buxtehude hymn in an arrangement that accompanied the singing with pizzicato bass and flute, emphasizing the lilt and giving the tune almost a Mediterranean feel. The Congregation later sang an Italian hymn in 6/8, and the big church organ gave the Mediterranean tune a heavy Germanic feel. It's probably by design that the church organ muzzes over the sound of the congregation, making one's own voice the only one that one hears distinctly, emphasizing the individual and unmediated nature of one's relationship to God in Protestant theology, but I don't particularly like singing with that organ.


The next night my preacher friend came over for dinner. Because we had a guest we had spoken of the dinner being a dinner party. At the dinner table my five-year-old niece asked when the party started. I said, "The Reverend's here, and that means Party! Those who think that partying should not be mixed with religion should pick up their Bibles and rip out the Last Supper and the wedding feast at Cana!" The Reverend, who brought the beer, smiled merrily and said, "The Kingdom of Heaven shall be a banquet."

Amen, and let's make it happen in historical time.


Last Thursday night my beloved spouse and I went with my sister and her husband to see Oklahoma! at the Barn Theatre, Michigan's oldest summer stock theater, under the same family's unsubsidized, for-profit management since 1946. My parents took me to see a show there as a teen-ager in the '70s, and I saw one show each in the '80s, '90s, and now, the '00s. Everything I've seen has been excellent: they put on straight-down-the-middle interpretations of standard scripts. The theater is small enough that it's always intimate, and the three shows I've seen as an adult have blown the movie versions away -- "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Noises Off," and now, "Oklahoma!", which had a live band, was well sung, well danced, well staged, well paced, dramatic, and very funny.

And those tunes! So many catchy ones, from the title song to "Oh what a beautiful morning" to "Surrey with the fringe on top" to "People will say we're in love" to "Everything's up to date in Kansas City" to "The farmer and the cowman should be friends" to "I'm just a girl who cain't say no" to the one that stuck in my head for days after, "With me it's all or nothing." Some of the "country" diction is cloying, somehow smarmier than Bob Dylan's similar affectations. But the passionate yearning of "People will say we're in love" brought a tear to my eye.


We sang some at the dinner table, led by the kids. After dinner one night my five-year-old niece sang a religious song she learned at her pre-school, a thanksgiving prayer appropriate for dinner, so my son wanted to sing some too, and led us in "This land is your land" and "Yellow submarine." My sister suggested that we sing something our grandpa had taught us, so we sang "Animal fair" enough times that the kids could learn the words. The last night there my two-year-old nephew indicated that he wanted to sing the song of thanksgiving before dinner, and while my niece was getting organized my son, misunderstanding the specificity of the request for singing, launched into "Animal Fair," so we sang that instead.

The birds and the beasts were there.
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