Chives growing in my garden, February 12, 2016
Awake, Thou Wintry Earth is almost a life anthem. I came to Thomas Blackburn’s poem by way of Bach’s Cantata 129. When I heard it, I came to understand in a new way that spring is an annual demonstration of resurrection. Listening to this still gives me shivers. Singing it means I end up whispering to tell that dead is dead over a voice that is breaking.
I took a walk around my backyard this morning and was delighted to hear garlic and chives laughing at winter, death, decay.
to tell that death is dead.
By Jim Harper
So, as you all— I am Jim, by the way, the middle brother —as you all probably know, music is very important in the Harper family.
When we were growing up, we were each either assigned or picked an instrument to play… some of us went further with this than others. (laughter) And I always sort of thought of it in my mind as the Bach Family Orchestra. I sort of thought that maybe Dad had so many kids to fill the gaps in the orchestra. But, that never panned out.
So, Margaret played the cello. That was her division, her instrument. And she also played the piano, just like Carol and Dorothy. But she also loved to sing.
She got together with Judy Petke and Rosalyn Hines at Bair Lake Bible Camp — we spent most of our summers at Bair Lake Bible Camp — and they formed a trio: The Bair Lake Lovelies. And they had wonderful harmonies. And I think they even sang out here, in Lombard, under a different name: The Lombard Lovelies.
But I came across this quote by Garrison Keillor, who I think Margaret enjoyed listening to, from a piece he wrote, Singing with the Lutherans. And I presume by that, he meant Singing with Sanctified Brethren, because that’s who he grew up singing with.
“Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It’s a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage. It’s natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We’re too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment. I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.”
So, when we turned off life-support for Margaret, we sang her into heaven. She lasted two songs, and her heart stopped.
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Here is my playlist for the prelude with some choice lyrics. One of my favorite piano quotes is from my sister Dorothy: Play the words.
Sweet, Sweet Spirit — Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived when we shall leave this place.
King Jesus — For He opens doors for me, doors I’m not able to see, That’s why I say King Jesus will roll my burdens away.
He’s Able — I know my Lord is able to carry me through.
Softly and Tenderly — You who are weary, come home.
There Is a Fountain — Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.
I Will Sing of My Redeemer — How the victory He giveth over sin and death and hell.
I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say — I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad. I found in Him a resting place and He has made me glad.
Wayfaring Stranger — I’m only going over Jordan; I’m only going over home.
Come Thou Fount — Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Abide with Me — Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
My God Is Real — [written by Mahalia!!] His love for me is just like pure gold, My God is real, for I can feel Him in my soul.
Come, Ye Disconsolate — Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.
Precious Lord, Take My Hand — At the river I stand, guide my feet, hold my hand, take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
Blessed Assurance — Angels, descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
I once prayed, Lord, please let Jan Karon live long enough to get Dooley and Lace married. The answer to that prayer was a whelming flood; I started crying on page 32 and sniffed and sobbed my way—punctuated by laughs—to the final page. Redemption, benediction, healing, holy amazement, connection. Reading this brings the satisfaction of resolution, the “two bits” after the “shave and a haircut”.
Weddings are my thing. Joyful solemnity, giving, sharing, joining, celebrating, laughing, crying, hugging, singing, dancing, rejoicing, thanksgiving. I love a good wedding and I’ve been to a few profoundly remarkable ones.
There was joy in the air; you could sniff it as plain as new-cut hay.
The focus of Come Rain or Come Shineis on the month before and the day of The Big Knot. Dooley and Lace want a small, intimate ceremony at Meadowgate Farm. Karon enjoys poking fun at the myth of a ‘simple country wedding.’ There are obstacles and annoyances. There are secrets and surprises. There is the unrelenting pressure of diminishing time to get the place wedding-ready.
The main character is Lace Harper. Her journals reveal her heart, her hopes, her fears, her loves. She wants to find a wedding dress for under $100; she is thankful for the callouses which document her hard work. She wants to get it—this whole starting a new family—right. I appreciated the ways Dooley and Lace honor the memory of Sadie Baxter (benefactor) and Russell Jacks (Dooley’s grandpa) in their wedding. Fun stuff: there is a Pinterest page for Lace Harper’s wedding!
Jan Karon and Wendell Berry are both skilled at portraying a community where giving, helping, and reciprocating are the norm. In their novels they don’t cover up the hurts, the anger, the tensions, the troubles. Weddings can be awkward with family drama. Karon handles the presence of Dooley’s birth mom, Pauline Leeper, in the same room as his siblings with utmost care. There is no easy resolution, no instant reconciliation, just baby steps, tiny beginnings towards the on-ramp to healing.
I connected with this book in many ways. This summer we went to a small, simple country wedding (see picture above) in a pasture. My son and daughter-in-law have a wind storm and fallen trees in their wedding story, too. I know what it is to be gob-smacked by blessings, reduced to silent tears of joy. Live music is the best for dancing the night away. I love the song in the title.
‘Why can’t life always be lived under the stars,’ she said, ‘with great music and family and friends?’
♪♫♪ Come Rain or Come Shine ♪♫♪ is a standard (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics Johnny Mercer) that has been covered by scores of recording artists. I used it ten years ago when I made a PowerPoint slideshow for Curt’s folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the course of my work, I listened to B.B. King and Eric Clapton on endless repetition. And I can honestly say, I never tired of it. But there are so many recordings of this song, that I put my listening of them in this post.
I finished it last night. I started it again this morning.
It was near St. Patrick’s Day. I typed “Irish sacred music” in the search engine. And I discovered Cork Sacred Harp. My husband Curt was on medical leave and we sat entranced for hours watching videos on YouTube. And now it’s become a daily habit to listen and sing along to our favorites a capella singing from Ireland.
In 2012 we rented this DVD about Sacred Harp singing from Netflix. The quote in the photo above says, “features some of the most raucous group vocals that have been recorded.” True, that. The music in the movie is primitive, unrefined, at times jarring. It is intense, heartfelt, loud. We found ourselves simultaneously compelled and repelled. And so intrigued that I bought the DVD. What is shape note singing? See this article. The shapes correspond with fa-sol-la-mi; the first swipe through a song the singers use these syllables. With several parts singing different notes, it may sound like random mish-mash to begin with.
Listen: The music is often fugal. This means that there are the melody lines enter in a staggered fashion, braiding tunes until all parts sing together. Here’s a good example, a hymn tune we regularly sing to a different text:
Why has this music captured me? I think it is the clean—yes, even sharp—edges of rhythm. It’s that the majority of the songs are in minor keys. It’s the full sound of people singing with gusto. If I had a gun to my head and had to say my favorite hymn (a funny thought experiment) I would say Come Thou Fount. Here it is to the tune I Will Rise.
I don’t like every one of the videos listed under CorkSacredHarp, but I’ve “liked” my favorites and then watch that “liked” playlist daily. I don’t get weary of them. Here is a list of my favorites. The title is name of the tune.
146 Hallelujah – might be the best known Sacred Harp song
63 Coronation – All Hail the Power. The frail woman in the inner square: priceless
30t Love Divine – Tollie Lee is the most lively, engaging leader
350 Nativity – Another example of fugal singing, one we love to sing at my church
128 Promised Land – I love Shirley! I am bound for the Promised Land.
45t New Britain – Amazing Grace done Sacred Harp style
569b Sacred Throne – I grew up singing this tune to Alas, and did my Savior bleed?
59 Holy Manna – Eimear and Sadhbh are my favorites. The song, too.
547 Granville – This gripping lament was written in 1986 by Judy Hauff
344 Rainbow – We sing this “as is” except for the solfege at the beginning.
148 Jefferson – You will never hear Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken the same again 457 Wayfaring Stranger – Another familiar song with glorious harmony
117 Babylon Is Fallen – Oh. my. I wake up with this song on my lips.
448b The Grieved Soul – What is that that casts thee down? A song for depression.
I suspect that 95% of my dear readers will not enjoy, explore, pursue this music; there is no accounting for taste. But I know there are a few of you who will become as fixated as I have become. You will lose of day of productivity soaking this music into your system. Someone said Sacred Harp is a capella Heavy Metal. (I copied it from a website in German!) This metal is embedded in me.
One of the glories of old hymns is their last verse. Singing them was a weekly reminder that death would come, that life follows death, that we have promises on which to stand. The regular drip irrigation of those last verses watered our hope and confidence.
Here’s a few that I found in my hymnal.
Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.
Through ev’ry period of my life your goodness I’ll pursue;
and after death, in distant worlds, the glorious theme renew.
E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.
He will keep me till the river rolls it waters at my feet:
then he’ll bear me safely over, made by grace for glory meet.
Jesus loves me, he will stay close beside me all the way:
if I love him, when I die he will take me home on high.
Now by this I’ll overcome—nothing but the blood of Jesus;
now by this I’ll reach my home—nothing but the blood of Jesus.
He will gather, he will gather the gems for his kingdom,
all the pure ones, all the bright ones, his loved and his own.
Then he’ll call us home to heaven, at his table we’ll sit down;
Christ will gird himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
And when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil a life of joy and peace.
While I draw this fleeting breath, when mine eyelids close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown, see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee, I will ever give to thee.
And when my task on earth is done, when, by thy grace, the victory’s won
e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, since God through Jordan leadeth me.
I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death;
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath;
and say, when the deathdew lies cold on my brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
I’m so glad I learned to trust thee, precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
and I know that thou art with me, will be with me to the end.
Jesus lives and death is now but my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul, for thou hast a crown of life before thee;
thou shalt find thy hopes were just: Jesus is the Christian’s trust.
I’ve watched videos, listened to CDs, read Hafner’s book and I continue to be mesmerized. The best film so far has been the 2010 documentary, Genius Within . Gould’s music accompanies me while I chop veggies, sweep the floor, write blog posts.
Who was Glenn Gould? He was a Canadian pianist whose ability, style, precision, musicality, phrasing, was simply in a galaxy all his own. Many stories have been told about folks who, having never once listened to classical music, were stunned and converted by some piece they inadvertently listened to on the radio. His playing grabs you.
“You are one of the few authentic geniuses recording today. If you wanted to record the complete works of Alban Berg on a kazoo, I’d gladly do it.” RCA executive to GG
Katie Hafner’s book focuses on the piano that Glenn Gould played, a Steinway CD 318. It’s a great introduction to Gould, but also a great introduction to Verne Edquist, the blind man who was Gould’s principal tuner. In the video linked above, someone has a question, Hafner can’t answer. She calls Edquist in the middle of Q and A and finds out. The Steinways, a German family who emigrated to America to build pianos, provide an engaging back story.
Gould had many eccentricities, and his life story is ultimately a sad one, leading me to the question, “Is there such a thing as a balanced genius?” He died days after his 50th birthday from a stroke. One ‘tic’ he had was humming whenever he played the piano. I remember attending a concert in 1989 with a pianist who shared this quirk. At the social hour afterwards, I remarked to some bystander what a shame it was that someone in the audience insisted on humming along. “Oh, my dear,” the lady said, “That was our own dear [insert pianist’s name]. She can’t help herself.”
I suppose it can be said that I’m an absent-minded driver. It’s true that I’ve driven through a number of red lights on occasion, but on the other hand I’ve stopped at a lot of green ones but have never gotten credit for it. — Glenn Gould
Once in a while I try to figure out why Glenn Gould fascinates me. What keeps me looking for more to read, more to watch, more to listen? He is an enigma – charming, yet reclusive, gifted but abhorred performing, confident but lost. I haven’t come up with an answer yet. But I know I’m not alone. His magnetic pull continues thirty-two years after his death.
The critic Tim Page said that in his last decade, Gould was “no longer just an arrogant, albeit sweet-tempered genius. He became a sweet-tempered melancholy genius.” Today, September 25th, is the anniversary of his birth. Give yourself a gift by listening to Glenn Gould. Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a good place to start.