Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

A good song for a bad day.


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My friend’s mom (who is also my friend) just sent me an album that a married couple made–the couple attends her church in Joplin, Missouri.  The group (or duo?–there are several musicians who play on this disc) is called Ein Blume.  You can listen to their music on their myspace page, here.

The record, Enna Ert Det Hap, Frutc Ahlgren  has a German name (like their band), but most of the songs are in English.  And the songs are beautiful.  I’ll admit that I got kind of worried when I saw the track names: “None is Good” and “We Burn” but both of these songs are examples of genuine, profound, intellectually challenging, and heartfelt music.  I am absolutely crazy about this disc, which has a bit of  Sufjan Stevens or Damian Rice in its style (the male vocalist reminds me of Sufjan. I’m sure he’s heard that before).  The reason I love it, though, is for its levels–these songs rise and fall, ache and rejoice; there’s a harp, a violin, guitar and piano.  It’s fantastic walk-the-dog-early-in-the-Tallahassee-morning music.  There are so many people I’d like to buy this album for.  Unfortunately, it’s not on iTunes.  I hope this band gets ultra famous and comes to a town near you.

Here are some of my other favorite married music groups:

and last, but most famous:

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I just played this video for my students while they free-wrote, responding to one of the two prompts:

1. Give a history of your life  by listing the different books, television shows, movies, songs, bands, or albums you were obsessed with at various ages.

2. Write what comes to mind when you hear this song.

I usually respond to the prompts along with my students and this time was no exception.  I chose the second one.  I’m writing and thinking, do my students know they are listening to a song about resurrection?  Does it at all ring true to them?  Do they yet know how much death is required of them if they want something good to come out of their lives?

I keep coming back to this song (the first time I heard it was in 2002, when I was roughly the same age as my students) because I find it to be a good reminder, true on so many levels–spiritually, materially.  Just today, I met with my professor about my thesis novel and we decided that it really needs to be told in third person limited.  Those who knew me know that I wrote a hundred pages in third limited, switched perspectives from a 30 year old woman to a 10 year old girl, and then switched to first person retrospective, looking back to when the narrator was a ten year old girl.  Each time I make one of these switches, it’s like I have to die to the book again and hope that it resurrects as something better.

The thing that this principle asks (you have to die if you want to be alive) is pretty simple:How much do you want it? How much do you want this book to be a good piece of Literature with a capital L?   How much do you want Life with a capital L?


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This mini-essay came out of a writing exercise (the first one in “The Practice of Poetry,” edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell).   It’s a collection of exercises written by poets.  The first one is from Ann Lauterbach and she just says to write about an early experience with words.    She says the purpose is to “trigger your initial experience with language” (3), and to link experiences with reading and writing.  I did the prompt and thought it was something worth archiving in my blog. I may keep working with it and better shape it–polish it, but here it is in its rough form. Also, I may have written something like this on the blog before because it’s a memory I come back to a lot. Whatever. Enjoy.

Each Sunday my parents took me to a meeting with their Christian fellowship. We met in an elementary school.  I was younger than six and too young, at least for me, to wonder what was the function of the room when it was not used for the Sunday meeting.  The room was simply where we went on Sundays before I went off to Sunday school; it was the place where I must sit still and endure three songs, sharing, and a prayer.  I recall a brown carpet, folding chairs.  The room was narrow and there was a hallway with a staircase nearby.  Sunday School was up these stairs and in another room that was small and also brown and had lots of bookshelves.  I was too young to wonder what kinds of books these were and I don’t know if I was old enough to read.  This is the very fact that makes me think that in this memory I was too young to read.  If I could, I would have been more interested in the books because I am pretty sure I have been obsessed with books since I knew how to use them.

Our church was never called church but called “fellowship” and our services were never called services but “meetings”, which now strikes me as a bit cult-like, but really, the gesture was meant well; the grown ups did not want to align themselves with the unattractive aspects of how Christianity had evolved over the years.

We began each meeting with singing; these songs were not planned out beforehand but requested on the spot from fellowship people.  In other words, we sang what other people felt like singing. It was democratic. We used a songbook somebody in the fellowship put together by numbering songs and sticking them in a folder with a table of contents.  (These folders were definitely brown, though the other brown details I am unsure of.  It could be that because these folders were brown that I see this entire memory in different shades of brown).  The lyrics were typed on an old type writer and I believe ridden with typos, though I didn’t notice this yet because, again, I couldn’t read.  Most of the songs were hymns, popular hippie christian songs (a crust of bread in a house of peace is worth much more than the finest feast), or songs people in the congregation wrote.  My mother had a song in this book that I would hear many times before I knew it was hers.

So, we were singing.  It was right before my father prayed for the kids to go off to Sunday school–or as I later joked, “prayed the kids out of there”–and one of the songs, called “Yahweh,” had an eerie tune.  I took interest in darkness even as a toddler and I tended to prefer songs set in a minor key.  I still prefer them.  In the song we sang, “Though I walk through the fire, I will not be scorched or burned.” I realized what the song was saying and thought about them somewhere along the lines of: whoa. shit.

I was sitting next to my Sunday school teacher, Claudine (a Swiss woman who was the mother of my best friend at the time), and I asked her what those words meant.  Why was the speaker of the song walking through fire (and the sea in an earlier verse)?  Wasn’t that dangerous?  She asked me to bring it up in Sunday School.

I don’t remember what Claudine said about it to the other children.  Undoubtedly, something about God’s protection. I don’t remember who else was in that room or what the other children said.   I probably said a lot.  I talked a lot then in class as I do now.  All I can remember is that I understood that the fire in the song was not a literal fire.  I think this was my first time understanding that language can be figurative, that language can have layers, that it can be used in different ways to connect to people.  In this case, an image: walking through fire unscathed.

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In my Spanish class, we did an exercise to help us remember how to use adjectives (aligning gender and number), and so we’d get a list of nouns and would have to describe them.  Pretty simple.  One of the words was “lago” or lake, and everyone, it seemed, wrote “húmedo,” or wet, and the profesor cracked up.  He said it was never appropriate to write that the lake was wet, because the lake is made of water.  Not even in poetry would we use this description.

In church, Sunday, the worship team (I wasn’t singing this week) led a song “I want to be where you are.”  The lyrics popped into my head this morning (because these songs get in your head like what).  The chorus goes: “I called, you answered/you came to my rescue and I/I wanna be where you are.”   It’s a pretty song, but to sing “I want to be where you are” to God is like calling a lake wet.  We can’t be where God is not.  Not in my experience, at least.

I just read the story of Jesus calling Matthew (perhaps this is why the song popped into my head, though that story is about Jesus calling and Matthew answering and the song is the other way around), and I’m amused that after deciding to follow Jesus, the next place Matthew goes is home, to throw a party for a bunch of ‘sinners.’  Jesus calls Matthew, and the next thing you know, he’s partying with him.  Maybe this verifies that there is no place where God is not.

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Old Songs

This week we’re looking at religious music.   This is one of the “hymns” I guess, that was in our packet to read, from Medieval England:

A God, and yet a man?

A mayde, and yet a mother?

Witt wonders what witt can

Conceave this or the other.

A God, and can he die?

A dead man, can he live?

What witt can well replie?

What reason reason give?

God, Truth it selfe doth teache it;

Mans witt sinkes too far under,

By reasons power to reach it–

Beleeve, and leave to wonder.

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American Music

When I moved to Bangkok (and lived there for two years), I wasn’t too happy about being an American.   It was during the height of the Bush years, when my lack of health care and a steady income was giving me hell, when it just wasn’t cool to say you were from America in other parts of the world (Is it now? Who knows.)  Though I threw myself into the Thai culture, picking up on everything I could to put aside my national identity, I found that I craved American music.  It was the one thing I was proud of; one thing I felt we had done right.   Later I got to appreciating Thai music too (the country stuff is fantastic), but at first I only noticed the songs that were covered everywhere–The Eagles, Brittany Spears–the kind of stuff I wasn’t too excited about.  I listened to Wilco, Woody Guthrie, Lucinda Williams, Eric Bibb, John Lee Hooker, and later John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae.  Friends sent me CDs.

I’m only writing all this because I’m in awe of the fact that I’m enrolled in a class called “The Rhetoric of Song.”  We’re assigned American roots collections every week and we read essays by the Lomax Brothers (Land Where the Blues Began guys…)  I feel like I’ve waited my whole life to take this class.  The songs we listened to this week are ballads, and the language is just incredible.

“I’ve been to the river to be baptized, now I’m at the burial ground.”

“I got so thin I could hide behind a straw.”

A man tells a woman, “You’ll rue the day for givin’ me the devil because I wouldn’t hoe m’corn.”

People are dying of heartbreak, literally, or getting so drunk they fall in love with cows.

Here’s one about some boys who throw their ball into a gypsy’s garden, with fatal results:

That one was adapted from an English ballad, a commentary about when all the gypsies were exiled, sometime in the 1200’s.  That’s at the core of American Music.  I know, because of this class.  Seriously, people.  It’s the stuff I’d read if I had more time and now I’m forced to read it.

Here’s one with a jugband:

Jugbands!  God bless America.

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