If there is anything I love more than music, it is probably making fun of music, or at least musicians. I’ve enjoyed singing in choir for decades, and part of my joy comes from laughing at what we’re singing at times. But last night I was blown away, in a good sense, by the work of a composer that I’ve made fun of in the past.
Aaron Copeland. I’ve never considered myself a fan of this all-American composer. I remember a time about 15 years ago in the Seattle First Baptist Sanctuary Choir, when we were singing a number of Copeland pieces. One of my least favorite songs featured lyrics about the men working outside all day while the women sat around quilting and “singing snatches.” That line is forever etched in my memory because one evening the choir president introduced herself by saying, “Hi, I’m one of the singing snatches.”
Those were the days.
But what does any of this have to do with life today, in 2018. Let me explain.
It’s spring in Methow Valley, and Jim G and I are busy working on our country house. We’re enjoying beautiful weather, and we’re doing a lot of hard work. As I write we are sitting in lawn chairs in our Great Room, and night has fallen around us. I can’t see anything outside except darkness. But it’s one of my favorite times of day – the hard work is done for the day and it’s time to enjoy a mug of hot chocolate, enhanced with a bit of bourbon.
Last night, as I sipped my warm (and warming) beverage I decided to watch a video on my iPad. I opened my PBS app and selected a program from the Live at Lincoln Centerseries. Sitting and relaxing was a special treat. I’d spent the day digging and pushing a wheel barrow and hefting rocks and doing other physically demanding work, and I was tired and sore. My hands hurt. My shoulders ached. My calves kept cramping. My butt was too exhausted to move. But I had enough energy to select a program to watch. It wasn’t actually from Lincoln Center. It was chamber music from a Shaker village in Kentucky.
I clicked on the appropriate links, and in a matter of seconds I was watching the program. Fortunately I’d remembered to bring earphones, so I could hear the music without disturbing Jim G and our dog Otto. The show was recorded in a “tobacco barn” (did you know there is such a thing?) in a bucolic setting. The music was rousing, joyful, just what I needed in my achy state. I was enraptured, but then the hosts explained that they were going to finish with a piece that contained a strong Shaker melody. Simple Gifts. Embedded into a suite called Appalachian Springby ol’ singing snatch himself, Aaron Copeland.
And it was magical. I found myself transfixed by the music, bowled over by the melodies and harmonies, enraptured.
There is nothing evil about making fun of music, composers, lyrics, melodies. My brain would explode if such activities were verboten. But I love to be caught off guard by something that I tend to joke about. Normally I make wise cracks about Aaron Copeland. But last night I was engulfed in his music, moved out of my tired, achy body, blessed.
Simple gifts. Unexpected gifts. Surprising gifts. Is there anything better?
‘Tis a gift to be simple
‘Tis a gift to be free
‘Tis a gift to come round
Where we ought to be…
And it’s a gift to embrace and enjoy beauty, especially where we don’t expect to find it.