Friday, July 29, 2016

"Fiddler Jones": The Rest of the Story

Crazy to think that I have been a member of the Illinois State Historical Society for 42 years. I joined when I was 17 and joked with my dad that I should get a life-time membership (about $250, if I remember correctly). Dad balked at that, and I understand. For all he knew, this would be a fleeting interest. But I do anticipate belonging to the society as long as I live, to support and enjoy Illinois history. The society has benefited more from my yearly memberships than that years-ago, innocent idea of a one-time payment.

This week I received my copy of one of the society's publications, Illinois Heritage (the July-August 2016 issue). (I had an article in the magazine in 2000.) One of this new issue's articles is by Peter Ellertsen, "'Why, fiddle you must': Edgar Lee Masters' account of traditional fiddle music in Menard County in 1914" (pp. 42-45).

Back to my teenage years... When I was 15 or 16, I really loved Masters' book Spoon River Anthology. I was already at work transcribing tombstone inscriptions at our rural family cemetery for my genealogical hobby, so I liked the graveyard theme, not at all morbid to me. I also loved the free verse and the many small-town characterizations, some scandalous for the 1910s. My favorite poem in the book was "Fiddler Jones." That poem, now in the public domain, reads:

The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.”
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill--only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle--
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

The idea of living life fully--of having plans yet being spontaneous enough to take opportunities, of anticipating regrets, of loving music--appealed to me--and has served me well, these years later.

Ellertsen's article provides for us (as Paul Harvey used to say on his radio programs) the rest of the story of that poem. In about 1914, writer Masters and his friend, the writer Theodore Dreiser, met John Armstrong, whose father Jack Armstrong had been in a legendary wrestling match with young Abraham Lincoln. (Here is an interesting article about Jack.) John was a fiddle player, as was his brother in law John "Fid" Jones, and his father in law "Fiddler Bill" Watkins. Armstrong was an accomplished musician who knew numerous tunes of American and Anglo-Celtc tradition, which he played for his visitors.

Ellertsen uses the term "creolization" to refer to the process of different styles and idioms coming together to create a new form. Armstrong's music, about which Masters later reminisced in his 1942 book The Sangamon, was "thoroughly creolized" music and reflected important developments in American music (p. 43). Also in the 1910s, the writer Vachel Lindsay had a similar experience of meeting fiddlers and recalling the tunes they played (pp. 44-45).

Ellertsen concludes, "I would suggest that in 1914, in the very dawn of sound recording, Masters was able to tap into a vibration in the heart of American culture. It thrummed to the beat of a popular Anglo-Celtic musical tradition that was reflected in the media of the day, chiefly the theatre and printed music, and it was still vibrating in his heart when he came to write The Sangamon some 30 years later" (p. 45).

If the subjects of folk music and American Midwestern history appeal to you, get a copy of this issue of Illinois Heritage and read the author's account, which includes the names numerous tunes and songs popular at that time.

For All the Saints: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

On Catholic and Protestant calendars, the New Testament siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are honored today. A few years ago I wrote about the sisters, here., and my friend Suzanne is blogging about the sisters this week, here. The Catholic site that I use to learn about these various saints has this about Martha (probably the one with whom we identify):

"Christ in the House of Mary and Martha"
by Diego Velazquez, 1618
"No doubt Martha was an active sort of person. On one occasion (see Luke 10:38-42) she prepares the meal for Jesus and possibly his fellow guests and forthrightly states the obvious: All hands should pitch in to help with the dinner.

"Yet, as biblical scholar Father John McKenzie points out, she need not be rated as an 'unrecollected activist.' The evangelist is emphasizing what our Lord said on several occasions about the primacy of the spiritual: '...[D]o not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear…. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness' (Matthew 6:25b, 33a); 'One does not live by bread alone' (Luke 4:4b); 'Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…' (Matthew 5:6a).

"Martha’s great glory is her simple and strong statement of faith in Jesus after her brother’s death... Scripture commentators point out that in writing his account of the raising of Lazarus, St. John intends that we should see Martha’s words to Mary before Lazarus was raised as a summons that every Christian must obey. In her saying 'The teacher is here and is asking for you,' Jesus is calling every one of us to resurrection—now in baptismal faith, forever in sharing his victory over death. And all of us, as well as these three friends, are in our own unique way called to special friendship with him."

(I know I've neglected Lazarus in this post, but I wrote more about him here.)

Landscape: Paul Nash

Paul Nash, "We Are Making a New World" (1918). From:

Copied under fair use principles.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lavishing Grace

Trying to stay off Facebook and the numerous political discussions this morning... yesterday I finished a devotion for a friend's website, which will be published there next week: The devotion addressed one of my all-time favorite Bible passages, Ephesians 3:20-21.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

On one of my sites, I wrote other things about Ephesians: for instance, the palpable language used through the epistle: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us (Eph. 1:7-8)… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints … the immeasurable greatness of his power … the working of his great power (Eph. 1:18-19) … the boundless riches of Christ (3:8)… the wisdom of God in its rich variety… (3:10).

I noted in my old Bible, beside verse 3:10, that the original Greek word for “manifold” (poluroikilos) means “many-colored.” I also love that word “lavish”: imagine God pouring his grace, ladling his grace to us in huge, generous servings, and we come back for more and more!

Alternately, imagine God splashing us, splattering us with great colorful heaps of wisdom and blessing. Psalm 23 provides a similar image of abundance: the overflowing cup. What a relief that was to discover: God’s grace is so much more than a warm feeling, so much more than rules to keep.  Grace is more than even the help that we seek when we’re desperate: God’s grace is abundance, riches, and excess.

Jesus promised us abundant life: excessive life, outpouring life. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The Greek word perisseia means “abundance” and “overflow.” The word alludes to the feeding of the multitudes, a story which, interestingly, is the only miracle (besides the resurrection) that is told in all four gospels (Matt. 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13). Other important stories—the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the raising of Lazarus, the angelic appearance to the shepherds, and others—are not similarly repeated in all four. But the prevalence of this miracle alerts us to its importance; the life Jesus bestows is never stingy and grudging, and is certainly never earned.

There are many other signs of God’s abundance: the way Jesus socializes with people we’d avoid, the way God’s Holy Spirit was given freely to all, the way people found power and liberation in Christian fellowship, the way social barriers and distinctions dropped within the early church’s fellowship (e.g. Gal. 3:28). That poses a question: how can we ourselves, today, display God’s many-colored, heaping, overflowing lavishness?

Sometimes when I'm blue about the world, these kinds of biblical passages help remind me that God is not only still working and speaking in the world, but is doing so in excess!

For All the Saints: Bach, Schütz, Handel, Purcell

Bach's grave in Leipzig  
On the Lutheran (ELCA) calendar, Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Schütz, George Frederick Handel are honored today, the anniversary of Bach's death. Bach (1685-1750) was the Baroque composer, known during his lifetime for his organ playing, but in the 19th century, his many compositions began to be appreciated, so that now he is considered one of the greatest composers.

Handel (1685-1759) is known for works like Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks, and he wrote many operas, organ concertos, anthems, and oratorios. Born in Halle, he emigrated to London and became a British subject. A few years ago we visited his grave in Westminster Abby.

Schütz (1585-1672) was one of the most important composers prior to Bach and one of the greatest of the 1600s. His sacred music survives, and a few secular works, about 500 altogether. In Dresden, we saw a memorial to the composer; he was buried in the former Frauenkirche in that city.

On the Episcopal calendar, Bach and Handel are honored today and also Purcell instead of Schütz. Purcell (1659-1695) was the most important English composer prior to the 20th century. He is known for his anthems, keyboard works, songs, and his opera Dido and Aeneas. He too is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mozart, Haydn, and All Those Others ...

Michael Haydn 
One of my favorite LP sets is a 1978, 4-disc set called “Orgelmeister vor Bach” (The Early German Organ School), performed by Helmut Walcha. Walcha (1907-1991) lost his sight as a teenager but nevertheless mastered a large organ repertory, including Bach’s complete organ works. This website discusses his achievements:

A friend who is a professional musician recommended this out of print set, if I could ever find it. While on a roadtrip to Tucson, I saw it for sale at the wonderful, now closed Jeff’s Record Shop. The set was 40-some dollars and I worried about the price, so I didn’t buy it, and of course I couldn’t find the set again, even on eBay. Finally I found it on that auction site. Then I saw it again on eBay just a few weeks later, at an even better price. Oh well.

Buxtehude (the sound of whose name makes me chuckle, for some reason) dominates the organ masters on these LPs. Listening to the set while working, I found myself enjoying particular pieces and, looking at the label, discovered they were by Pachelbel. Poor Pachelbel! Like Albinoni with his Adagio, Barber with his own Adagio, Mouret and his Rondeau (the Masterpiece Theater theme), Delibes and the Flower Duet from Lakme, and some other composers, Pachelbel is best remembered for one piece of music. But they all wrote other, beautiful works, too. The Walcha set also includes music by Lübeck, Scheidt, Bruhns, Sweelinck, Tunder, and Böhm.

This past weekend, I thought again of the way many of us---unless we're specialists or dedicated amateurs---neglect beautiful music written by less notable composers. The list of other classical-era composers is long, though Mozart and Joseph Haydn command much of the attention.

A few years ago I discovered the symphonies of Michael Haydn, Joseph's brother, and have them on several CDs. Also, one of my Pandora channels is Michael Haydn, which provides a great selection of classical-era music by him and numerous others. This past Sunday, as Beth and I worked on writing projects at home, I turned on the Michael Haydn channel and jotted down the several featured pieces and their composers:

Michael Haydn, Symphony in F Major, MH 507 (P 32)
William Herschel, Oboe Concerto in C Major
Christian Cannabich, Symphony #64 in F Major
C.P.E. Bach, Symphony for 2 flutes, 2 horns, strings and continuo, H 649, Wq 174
Franz Ignaz Beck, Sinfonia in E Major, Op. 131
Karl von Dittersdorf, Sinfonia in A Major
Georg Anton Benda, Symphony #1 in D Major
Francois-Joseph Gossec, Symphony in G Major, Op. 12/2 (B 55)
Joao de Sousa Carvalho, L'amore Industioso (opera overture)
Antonia Rosetti, Symphony #24 in F Major
Johann Friedrich Fasch, Ouverture (Suite) in D Minor
Michael Haydn, Symphony in B-flat Major, MH 82 (P9)
Franz Xaver Richter, Sinfonia #4 in F Major (6 Grandes Symphonies #2)
Antonio Vivaldi, Oboe Concerto in C Major, RV 451
Wilhelm Heerschar, Symphony #12 in D Major
George Fridrich Handel, Water Music Suites 1-3, HWV 348-350
Antonio Salieri, Symphony in D Major "Veneziana"
Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Symphony (Overture #1) in A Major for 2 trumpets, 2 violins, viola, and bass
Johann Ernst Hartman, Symphony #1 in D Major
Michael Haydn, Flute Concerto in D Major
J. C. Bach, Symphony for Double Orchestra in D Major, Op. 18/3
Leopold Hofmann, Sinfonia in F Major

When we left the house to do something, I turned the radio off just as the next featured composer was Luigi Boccherini.

I like the music of these composers---Michael Haydn and also Boccherini, Vivaldi, Handel, the Bach family, and good ol' Salieri---but I was unfamiliar with even the names of other composers. Yet the musical enjoyment they afforded during our peaceful afternoon was wonderful. It would be a worthwhile effort, for any of us amateur music lovers, to select a musical period that we like and go off-road, so to speak, to discover music by less-well-known artists. We might discover pieces we can't now do without.

(Serendipity: the July 2016 issue of "Gramophone" has a review (pp. 38-39) of some new recordings of other lesser-known 18th century composers. They include Georg Benda and Michael Haydn and also Carl Stamitz, the brothers Paul and Anton Wranitzky, Johann Matthias Sperger, and Franz Anton Hoffmeister. The reviewer, David Thresher, writes, "There's more to the musical late 18th century than Mozart and Hydn, and sometimes it doesn't hurt to be reminded of the fact. There were hoards of Kapellmeisters and composers working alongside the two giants of the Austro-German Classical word, most of whom are now remembered as little more than names in dusty music dictionaries. New discos from Sonly Classical... [raise] hopes that they may be harbingers of a continuing series of recordings of the works of these mostly forgotten Kleinmeister.)

Landscape: Twachtman

John Twachtman (1853-1902), “Connecticut Landscape,” ca. 1889-91. From: