On walks. I know summers outside mostly between 7 and 8 in the morning. The temperatures are mild and comfortable for walking.
(1) A new walk. Monday I set out a walk which I call East/West All Around the Neighborhood and Town Walk. It overlaps in sections some other walks; thus I see familiar things in a different perspective. For example, the statue of Jesus in the Peoples Church garden seems nobler from the rear and side. There is a ruined garden a block and a half long and a block wide. Among the weeds there are some plants of corn and squash and peas, the three sisters, yes. Perhaps I’ll forage there sometime. At another block, I am startled to pass a house with four large mimosa trees in the side yard and one behind them in the back yard. It is a place to pass by quickly.
(2) At a stoplight at the railroad tracks at the highway, a young jogger stopped beside me and noticed my baseball cap. She said, “Ancient Mariner, where do you sail?” I answered, “The seven seas. I sail the seven seas.” She asked, “When do you leave?” I answered, “I’ve already left. I’m on voyage now.” The light changed, and she jogged ahead, I hope, wondering.
(3) A situation for augury? I encountered on one walk, in three different areas, groupings of three different birds gathered in the streets. First six crows, then four mourning doves, then two blue jays. None flew as I passed on the sidewalks.
Listening. Chanticleer, Our American Journey. TeldecClassics Cd, recorded 2002. (Quotations below are from CD notes.) Perhaps it was the patriotism sparked by my renewed passport or maybe it was the awareness of the upcoming July 4 celebration that renewed my interest in this CD. It was good to listen carefully to the eighteen selections.
The first selection is “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” text from William Williams, arranged to a traditional Appalachian tune by musical director Joseph Jennings. It’s performed as a supplication for grace, strength, and guidance. In the hymn tune I sang as a Methodist, Jehovah is already guiding; in this tune there is hope and petition for leadership.
Homage is paid to Juan de Lienas (c. 1620-1650), his Credidi, a setting of Psalm 115. I learned: “The establishment of sophisticated music making in the Spanish regions of the Americas predates that of the English regions by over a century.” It’s a beautiful and moving work.
There are selections from the early New England choral traditions and from the Sacred Harp in shape note style.
Two pieces by Stephen Foster, “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair,” and “Camptown Races” are done in jazz style. I respect and like jazz, but I don’t like choral jazz. (I know, keep listening.) The melody of “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair,” sung over vocal jazz chords, is performed by tenor Michael Lichtenauer. It is beautiful. I compared it to another favorite recording, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne’s performance in Milan, which can be found on YouTube. The jazz stylings continue with performances of the standards, “Love Walked In” and “Willow Weep for Me.”
One of the compositions representing the African-American tradition is “Calling My Children Home,” performed simply and softly throughout. It is the most powerful expression of lonesomeness I know. The program ends with a rollicking black gospel song, “I’m a Pilgrim.” It is joyous and enthusiastic.
There are many compositions by twentieth century American composers, all interesting and entertaining, and some are transcendental in mood. “Whispers” by Steven Stucky (b. 1949) is one such, based on a text by Whitman.
My favorite piece is Brent Michael Davids (b. 1959), “The Un-Covered Wagon.” Voices here “evoke the sound of the shakers and drums in Native American ceremonial music, and [the score] occasionally calls for the nasal vocal timbre. . . and nose flutes.” There are surprising harmonies, complex tonal structures, a dissonant melding of “Faith of Our Fathers” over part of the chants. I’d like to see it performed.
Perhaps one of my celebrations of the 4th will be listening to an American opera. I have Copland’s “The Tender Land,” Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” and Floyd’s “Susanna.” How to choose? Probably pull from a hat.
Reading. Fiction. Gustave Flaubert, Three Tales (1877). Penguin Classics edition. Translated by Robert Baldick. This is Flaubert’s last published work. The three tales are “A Simple Heart,” “The Legend of St. Julian Hospitator,” and “Herodias.”
“A Simple Heart.” Flaubert wrote that his is “The account of an obscure life, that of a poor country girl, pious but fervent, discreetly loyal, and tender as new-baked bread.” (quoted in the introduction by Robert Baldick.) As the woman ages, she loses one by one everyone that she has loved. It’s a beautiful story of devotion and loneliness, one of my favorite works. I taught it to high school seniors in the mid-1970’s and in the mid-1980’s I taught it in French (abridged) to a class of French IV and V. Neither group liked it. The slow pace, presentation of simple living, and descriptions of rural Normandy held little interest. It was good to read it once again, the first time since 1986.
My favorite of the three is “The Legend of St. Julian Hospitator.” Flaubert’s writing is fast-paced as he relates the carnage of Julian’s blood lust in hunting. When Julian receives a mysterious prophecy from a buck, whose roe and fawn he has killed, that he will kill both his parents, he stops hunting until the night before the prophecy comes true. He becomes a hermit and achieves salvation through his care for others, especially for a dying leper, who transports him to Heaven. The story was inspired by stained glass windows in the cathedral at Rouen.
The windows in the cathedral also inspired “Herodias,” recalling the Biblical story of the beheading of John the Baptist. The descriptions of the desert, the lavish feasts, and the sensual dance of Salome are memorable. There are interesting discussion of Roman politics and early Christianity. The presentation of the raging of the imprisoned John the Baptist is impressing, and the description of his head in a dish at the banquet is appalling. The story illustrated the adage, “Hell hath no fury like that of the woman scorned.”
Reading. Scripture. The First Book of Nephi, The Book of Mormon. Nephi was a visionary prophet. In Chapters 10-15, he foretells the entire history of Christianity. If I were presenting a study of the Christian religion, here is where I would begin. It’s succinct, interesting, and compelling.
The story of Nephi is likewise interesting. In this book, he tells of recording, at God’s direction, prophecies of his father and his own prophecies on tablets, one for secular concerns, and the other for sacred ideas.
In the story, I enjoyed seeing ideas of faith and belief: the matter of trust in God, God’s using small things to bring about great results, purpose of creation, everlasting forgiveness from God, importance of diligence in faith, contrast of worldliness and Christian life (the church of the devil is described as “the whore of all the earth”), the importance of listening for God’s direction, need for faith and trust in troubled times, and empowerment of Spirit.
Favorite quotation, spoken by Nephi when his brothers are beginning to attack him: ” . . . and as they came forth to lay their hands upon me I spake unto them, saying: In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed; and he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him.” Yes!
I am enjoying the visits of Elder Hardy and Elder Johnson of the local Mormon church, to discuss the ideas, and our discussions are interesting and fun. I have the opportunity to comment on the similarities and differences of my confessed faith. So far, I see many more similarities than differences.
Happy Fourth of July! Thanks for reading. I hope your summer is going well.