Something for the weekend. Composed by Samuel Barber in 1936 as the second movement in his String Quartet, Op. 11, the Adagio for Strings seems appropriate for the weekend before we observe the thirteenth anniversary of 9-11. The piece always conveys to me sadness mingled with elements of hope. As we survey the march of the jihadists in the Middle East today I confess that I find it easier to hear the sadness in the piece rather than the hope. However, God often gives evil a moment to strut about on the stages of our lives, and to seem unbeatable and inevitable, often just before it is beaten and left to join the terrors of the past. Whether the present calamities will play out in that fashion is, as always, entirely up to the actions each of us take as we play out our lives and destinies.
Something for the weekend. Labor Day weekend seems a fitting time to recall again the United States Merchant Marine. The civilian fleet that carries imports and exports to and from the US, during war time it becomes an auxillary of the Navy to ship troops and war supplies. Officers of the Merchant Marine are trained at the Merchant Marine Academy, founded in 1943, at King’s Point, New York.
Technically civilians, one out of 26 merchant mariners died in action during World War II, giving them a higher fatality rate than any of the armed services. Members of the Merchant Marine were often jeered as slackers and draft dodgers by civilians when they were back on shore who had no comprehension of the vital role they played, or how hazardous their jobs were. Incredibly, these gallant men were denied veteran status and any veteran benefits because they were civilians. This injustice was not corrected until 1988 when President Reagan signed the Merchant Marine Fairness Act. Some 9,521 United States Merchant Mariners were killed during World War II, performing their duty of keeping the sea lanes functioning in war, as in peace.
Something for the weekend. We are Coming Father Abraham, written by Stephen Foster in 1862. Few songs better conveyed Northern determination to win the War. However, by August 1864 that determination seemed to be wearing thin.
With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering. On August 22, 1864 Lincoln received a letter from Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond suggesting that Lincoln offer peace terms to Jefferson Davis on the sole term of acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Constitution with slavery to be dealt with at a later date. Lincoln’s morale remained unshaken, but he was a veteran politician and could read the political tea leaves as well as any political prognosticator. That he read defeat in the tea leaves is demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum. Lincoln sealed this document and on August w3, 1864 asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread. They complied. Here is the text:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.
A. Lincoln →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Ye Cavaliers of Dixie, sung by Bobby Horton who has fought a one man crusade to bring Civil War music to modern audiences. Written by Benjamin F. Porter, the song was a riff on the popular song Ye Mariners of England.
Something for the weekend. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms sung by Iris DeMent. Anthony Showalter wrote the hymn in 1887. He had tragically received two letters from former pupils who told him that their wives had died. In his letters of consolation he referenced Deuteronomy 33:27: The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms, which became the theme of his hymn. Showalter wrote the refrain and Elisha Hoffman, at the request of Showalter, wrote the remaining lyrics.
Something for the weekend. On the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War I, There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding, one of the more popular songs of the Great War, seems appropriate. Stoddard King wrote the lyrics and Alonzo Elliott composed the tune. Two Yale seniors in 1913, they wrote the song during some idle time and sang it before their fraternity. The lyrics of the song seemed eeriely on point during the coming War: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. A moving rendition of the hymn What Wondrous Love Is This by Bobby Horton, who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War era music to modern audiences. The lyrics were first published in 1811 during the Second Great Awakening, a huge religious revival that swept the nation. The hymn was written either by that most prolific song writer Anonymous or by Alexander Means, the historical record is unclear. The tune comes from that hit of 1701,The Ballad of Captain Kidd.
Few hymns are better than this one in powerfully, and simply, conveying the eternal truth of Christianity: God, the great I AM, became one of us, walked and taught among us, and died for us.
Here is another rendition I have always liked, combining the hymn with another work of art that wordlessly conveys the core of Christianity, the Pieta: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Only one song is appropriate I think for a Fourth of July weekend: America. Written by a Baptist minister, Samuel Francis, and set to the tune, ironically, of God Save the Queen, the song was first performed on July 4, 1831 at Park Street Church in Boston. Near the end of his life, Francis was proposed by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr, for an honorary degree from Harvard. Harvard turned this proposal down on the grounds that Smith had not written the tune. The reply of Holmes was memorable and prophetic: His song will be sung centuries from now, when most of us and our pipings are forgotten.
The rendition at the beginning of this post is by Marian Anderson, perhaps the most gifted songstress of her generation. A devout Christian, this granddaughter of slaves was denied the opportunity by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall in 1939. In 1939 the District of Columbia was controlled by committees of Congress. Democrat segregationists rigidly enforced rules of segregation in the District. Blacks were rightly upset that during a performance by Miss Anderson, if it had been held at Constitution Hall, they would have been required to sit in the back of the hall. The District of Columbia Board of Education, controlled by Democrats, declined to allow Marian Anderson to perform in the auditorium of a white school. To her credit, Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband arranged for Anderson to give her unforgettable performance at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939, Easter Sunday.
During the war years, Miss Anderson spent a large part of her time entertaining troops. In 1943, at the invitation of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she sang before an integrated audience for a Red Cross benefit. The always gracious Miss Anderson remembered the event: When I finally walked onto the stage of Constitution Hall, I felt no different than I had in other halls. There was no sense of triumph. I felt that it was a beautiful concert hall and I was very happy to sing there.” →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Marching Along by William B. Bradbury. Bradbury was a human song writing machine of the 19th century. Of all the songs he wrote, doubtless the best known is the tune for Yes, Jesus Loves Me which I frequently sang as a child. He wrote that tune the same year, 1862, that he wrote Marching Along. Marching Along, appropriately enough, was a favorite marching song of the Army of the Potomac, and they sang it endlessly during their marathon marches of the Civil War.
Something for the weekend. One of the most powerful depictions of Christ on film from the movie Ben Hur (1959). A wonderful melding of music and dialogue as Christ goes silently to the aid of Ben Hur and gives him water. The wordless encounter between Christ and the Centurion was amazing, as the Centurion’s face registers bewilderment, shame and curiosity as he has a totally unexpected encounter with the Divine. Whatever the actor who played the Centurion was earning that day, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Something for the weekend, The Church’s One Foundation. Written by Church of England minister Samuel J. Stone, it is sung to the tune Aurelia by Samuel S.Wesley. I have always enjoyed this hymn and I have cherished the memory of Stone for it, and for this poem The Soliloquy of a Rationalistic Chicken: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Anchors Aweigh. The fight song of the United States Naval Academy, it was composed in 1906 with music by Charles A. Zimmerman and lyrics by Alfred Hart Miles. Universally regarded as the song of the United States Navy, it has never been officially adopted, although that has not stopped it being loved by most of the sailors who have served in Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. A musical medley from the movie Major Dundee (1965). Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65. Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers. Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon. Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West. The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.
Here is a fan made trailer for the restored edition that was released in 2005 that included much of the footage that was cut over Pekinpah’s protests: