Tag Archives: Music

self-made

Leaving the Cities, and the kindness of Philip and Preston, is sort of slow going this morning. On one hand, I’m really eager to be back to the river and small-town America and the rhythm of life we have created on this journey; on the other hand, I could easily spend another week here visiting friends and colleagues, mulling over the implications of the trip so far, and maybe even making some music, now that Mary Kay has brought my DP install disk, so that I can get it running on my replacement computer.

One thing Philip said seemingly almost offhandedly the other day is really helping me think through this whole undertaking. He mentioned something about how the point of the journey is for me to have my own take on the river: not so much to gather other people’s takes as an (ethno)musicologist might. I’ve been feeling sort of guilty and inadequate that I have little or no interest in going to hear music at the State Fair, for example; I would much rather look at the hundreds of species of rabbits, listen to the auctioneers sell off cows, and study the crop art (did you catch the crop art iPhone I posted the other day?!) Philip and Preston seemed to immediately understand this, and even though they certainly know about lots of interesting music in Minnesota, including their own, they didn’t push me to explore that now. The fact is, other than at church each Sunday, I have heard no live music at all on this trip. Unless you count birds and wind and train whistles and industrial sounds. Which I definitely do.

I feel like I am emptying myself of other people’s music. And it’s a bit scary, actually, since lots of the music I have written is in one way or another a response to music that already exists. I’m not sure what music I will be moved to write. I’m (mostly) okay with this emptying even though it creates a certain amount of mild anxiety in me. It’s sort of like a large-scale version of the emptying that comes before any new piece. But Philip’s comment somehow gave me permission to be squarely in this state, not to try to escape it, and I am really grateful to him for saying it.

It’s Mac’s paddling day today, and because we have a second kayak, Heather and Mary Kay can each get a half-day of paddling with his company, which seems like an excellent way to get them started on the river. Heather started out with Mac in the morning, so Mary Kay and I wandered around Mendota a bit, which was a curious experience. Mendota barely exists now, but it was a town long before St. Paul or Minneapolis came into being, and there are a few exquisitely maintained stone structures: St. Peter’s Church, Governor Sibley’s house, etc. right near where the Minnesota RIver joins the Mississippi, not far from Fort Snelling. They are made of the limestone that creates the bluffs we have just now started seeing, and there’s something great about how local these structures are. Makes me definitely want to build my Vermont house out of stone and wood gathered from my own land.

The trade-off point for Heather and Mary Kay was a boat launch just down from the US 494 bridge: maybe one of the biggest bridges we’ve seen yet over the Mississippi, and it’s under huge construction to double the lanes. An old man was sitting on a bench there: Ken has been coming out to watch the construction every day for months now. He had worked for years in the stockyards of South St. Paul; born in 1920, he grew up here the youngest of eleven children of parents and grandparents who grew up here, and most of his four children live nearby as well. I got to thinking about how some families have one person who did the big move of emigrating and then everyone settles in the new place for generations to come; while other folks seem to have immigration in their blood and they themselves and many of their offspring end up moving repeatedly all over the country or the world. I feel like I have both sides in me: my father was a wanderer by nature (or was it an adaptation to his circumstances?), and my mother always claimed she would have been happy to live in Farmington or Plymouth (Michigan) her whole life. But of course she didn’t, and I don’t know that she could have, despite all her voiced longing for that alternate settled life she never lived.

cow cow boogie

this song showed up in my iPod rotation this morning, and I feel I should share it with you:

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Ella Fitzgerald: Cow Cow Boogie

Mac posted about cows here, which made me laugh til I cried…

and Richard is posting great stuff here, the beginnings of fruits from his research at the Minnesota Historical Society.

touch beautiful places

IMG_0290

It rained pretty seriously last night, and I woke up before six and set up in the convenient shelter Palisade’s town park offers its users and read some more of this really curious and interesting book, Ojibwe Singers: Hymns, Grief, and a Native American Culture in Motion, by Michael D. McNally. I found it in the giftshop at Itasca State Park visitor center, next to all the tourist stuff – go figure! Anyway, the book is about what the Ojibwe people have made of the Protestant hymns taught them by Christian missionaries. The book’s claim is that a specifically Ojibwe method of singing these hymns — in unison, very slowly and solemnly, usually at wakes or funerals — came into being, and is quite separate from the ordinary hymn-singing that happened under the supervision of the missionaries on Sunday mornings in church.

Hymns were among the first texts that got translated from English into Ojibwe, starting sometime in the late 1820s, but because various concepts central to Christian theology (e.g. sin, salvation, grace) just simply aren’t directly translatable into Ojibwe, one can imagine that the Ojibwe texts are not terribly literal embodiments of Wesley and Watts.

Here, for example, is my favorite re-translation of the Ojibwe in the book. First, the original stanza, from Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (Isaac Watts), #510 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, for those of you following along at home:

And shall we, Lord, for ever be
In this poor dying state?
Our love so faint, so cold to thee,
And thine to us so great?

And here is Larry Cloud Morgan’s re-translation of the 1910 Ojibwe version of the hymn.

As we are thinking,
As we sing,
Our prayers
Touch beautiful places in us.

The Ojibwe version may not have a whole lot to do with Isaac Watts, but it’s definitely taking me someplace I want to go!

“I have charged myself with contentment and triumph.”

a difficult charge to live up to, from my man Walt Whitman, but if he managed to avoid despair and desolation in the face of the Civil War, I can certainly at least aspire to his mystical engagement with the wonders of this world, exactly as it is, rather than as I might wish it could be.

today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death, so along with the Whitman my brother so eloquently posted in the comments yesterday, I am posting a recording Joycie introduced me to in 1985 or 86, which I regret not playing at her funeral. full volume. I play it every year in her honor.

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Walter Hawkins: I’m Goin’ Away on Love Alive II

I visited this high volume ritual on patient and hopefully not too long-suffering Richard and Mac in the midst of driving around Bemidji today doing various errands, which take on thrilling overtones when you’re camping out. Laundry! Groceries! Oil Change! we also had a few hours in a pleasant cafe in downtown Bemidji where I tried to get the bills organized, if not actually paid. we set up camp at Bemidji State Park, which is blessedly nearly empty midweek, and laid out all the clean laundry and organized it into little subsections, each going into its own plastic bag. and each category of food into its own bags as well. totally OCD. I feel like I’m re-inventing skills the army has been inculcating in recruits since forever: a place for everything, everything in its place. but with a small car and three people suiting up for three different kinds of activities, it can get crazy pretty quickly if we aren’t anal about it!

Richard made a fine dinner for us with the new groceries, and read to us as he has each night from Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out
by Annette Atkins, a really wonderful book about Minnesota history for the general reader. Totally recommended!

hotel Bibles and turtle muck

Today I was scheduled for a driving day, so Richard set off from Wanagan’s Landing in the kayak, Mac on the bike to meet him at the next overpass, and I headed out to the local church for morning service. Because I’m looking to meet people in the various communities we’re passing through, I thought going to whatever local church seems promising every Sunday might be a good way to enter in to a local experience. Jonathan Raban stopped at bars in the towns he passed through, and of course ended up with a pretty depressing view of American life. not being much of a bar type myself, I figure churches might serve a similar function in terms of allowing me to interact easily with strangers, but perhaps somewhat less depressing. we’ll see!

so I arrived at the sort of Lutheran church just in time for the service: a congregation of about 25, all the men wearing checked shirts, seems to be a uniform, the women wearing hopeful summer sandals (it’s about 60 and raining.) the pastor is a supply priest (probably there’s a different name for it) from the local non-denominational evangelical college, and there is a guest speaker/guitar-player, Tim, a Gideon volunteer. Tim looks like a middle-aged version of the young Elvis (i.e. not like the actual middle-aged Elvis) and has brought his wife and two tow-headed children. he plays a song about how God made the tree that got turned into the cross, and the hill that was Calvary, and then he does a spiel about the importance of placing Bibles in hotel rooms, and tells a story about the daughter of a Hindu priest secretly converting due to a Gideon Bible, then being swept away in a flood, having left a note in her Bible that causes her parents, including her Hindu priest father to convert to Christianity. trouble is, this same story slightly transposed to Japan, where the young girl dies in a plane wreck, is printed in the pamphlet he hands out to all of us. did this same story coincidentally happen to both the Indian and the Japanese teenage girls? are all foreign heathens the same and the details unimportant? it is not clear to me.

the text was Jonah 2, and that was kind of great: the shroud of seaweed is instantly recognizable to me as the turtle muck that I just paddled through yesterday. and the organist was utterly dear, she must have been eighty, with a fabulously idiosyncratic sense of rhythm that was almost a species of swing, and Thelonious Monk-ish clusters to go along with it, and thrilling control of the volume pedal on her electronic organ.

at coffee hour the people were friendly if a bit wary. I don’t think they get visitors very often, and it took them a bit to warm up, they were far more NewEnglandish than my Vermont church congregation had been the first time I went there.

I headed out to the highway bridge to meet up with Mac and wait for Richard, who we soon realized was quite overdue. eventually a guy drove up to tell us Richard had gotten balled up in the swamp and turned around and was back at the previous bridge. so Mac and I headed there to find a pretty bedraggled Richard, and Mac decided to try the same patch of swamp, and eventually he got through, pretty bedraggled as well, and I felt really bad that both of them had a kind of rough start to their river kayaking. Mac continued on to the next campsite, Coffee Pot Landing it’s called, and I set up the tent in the rain, and we decided to head to Bemidji for dinner instead of cooking in camp, ’cause everyone was tired and wet and cold. Applebee’s never tasted so good!

got back to camp in time for a really gorgeous sunset: a red molten sun collapsing into the clouds. really hoping that red sun at night is indeed the sailor’s delight!