Search This Blog

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Playing and Singing with Holly Near

Holly Near and Steve (with baritone mountain dulcimer)
Over many years, the music, witness, example and life of Holly Near, has enlivened my music, revived my flagging hope, renewed my resolve and helped me focus on how I choose to be in the midst of forces that bid me to sink to a more base level.

My spouse, Connie, and I have sung Holly's music for public gatherings, for and with our children, in our churches and communities.

She has been a long-time (and long-distance) colleague of mine in the musician's union (Local 1000 AFM) and became a friend when we met at our local's membership retreat at the historic Highlander Center in Tennessee in 2012.

So, when she invited me to join her on stage for her concert celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (RMPJC)  in Fort Collins in mid-October, I was delighted.  When that concert was cancelled, she renewed the invitation to come to Boulder, so Connie and I saddled up for a delightful evening.

Rehearsing Mountain Song
Holly asked me to play mountain dulcimer on her "Mountain Song" (which has long been a favorite of mine!) to begin the Second Set.

In the conversation following our rehearsal, both she, the hosts and the other musicians and I began trading stories about being active in the movement which inspired the formation of RMPJC back in 1983:  the Encirclement of Rocky Flats.

At the time, Rocky Flats was the producer of all the plutonium triggers for the USA's nuclear weapons arsenal, the arms race was very hot and the anxiety about the possibility of nuclear annihilation of the human race and the entire planet was a common topic of conversation.

More than a thousand Colorado citizens decided to encircle the 17 mile perimeter of the Rocky Flats plant with a hand-to-hand human chain on a sunny day in October.

I was one of those citizens, and I had been trained as a peacekeeper (with a completely different mission than the missiles that then-President Reagan had named with the same name!), and I was carrying my trumpet, because I was one of the many buglers assigned to play "Taps" at the appointed hour, signifying the ending of the creation of these weapons.

There had been many demonstrations before and after and, in our conversations, we lamented that it appeared that little would every happen.

But, something DID happen.  The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center was born and has carried on with similar work for 30 years.  AND, Rocky Flats did close, the arms race began to cool down.

In her words to the gathered people at the (delicious!) reception before the concert, Holly encouraged the young people present not to give up hope, saying that even though we may not get thousands of people together with a common purpose, we could get 250 or 300.

So to demonstrate and share this experience, Holly had three Boulder choruses join her for her final song (instead of the "traditional" encore).  And for the "2nd non-traditional encore" had the rest of the audience stand and join hands around the sanctuary of the Unity church to sing the song she wrote after the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone in San Franciso in November of 1978:

"We are a gentle, angry people
and we are singing, singing for our lives...."

I was so inspired and honored to be there in 1983 AND in 2013!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Re-Evaluating one's Bullies/Antagonists/Enemies/Straw Dummies is good for one's soul.

A painting of Andrew Jackson late in his life,
on display in the Hermitage Museum.

I arrived in Nashville a day earlier than I needed to for a gig that fell through, so when the brown historical marker sign presented the opportunity to visit the Andrew Jackson Hermitage (Presidential Home & Museum), the history buff in me couldn't say, "No."

The legacy of the Jackson presidency is one that leaves a lot of distaste in my mouth.  One reason is his Indian Removal Act and the resulting Trail of Tears, which affected one branch of my ancestry in powerfully negative ways.  The legacy of yet another slave-owning president is another.  

And yet, as an historian, I've always argued that people should be evaluated in the context of their lives and experiences.  So, once again I was surprised to find some affinity and empathy for Jackson's life and situation.  

In the context of his situation (being unsuccessful in his first presidential campaign, after winning both the popular and electoral college votes, but losing in the House of Representatives) I understand the motivation to "get the word out" for the 2nd try, which resulted in his running the first presidential "campaign."

Viewing his candidacy as a "democratic" candidate (one of the people), versus the eastern establishment which favored "republican" government (keeping the "unwashed masses" out of the political process), helps me to bring into better relief some conversations I've had with friends in recent years.

"We want to be sure to have INFORMED voters" is a justification for the current attempts at voter suppression.  Well, that IS a republican virtue.

"We want to be sure that EVERYONE has a chance to participate in the electoral process" is the argument for those who seek broader voter registration and electoral participation.  And that IS a democratic virtue.

The extent to which the Capital Letter Party versions of these virtues embrace, embody and live up to these virtues is not what I am debating here, I'm interested in the philosophical underpinnings that are behind the virtues.

People who seek to limit the pool of eligible voters are hoping to have greater influence over the smaller number by being able to control not only the message but the audience.

Beautiful shade tree on the grounds of the Hermitage, resisting
the surrender of all of its colorful leaves in early November.
This appears to be very similar to what I discovered when doing my undergraduate historical research.  I began reading William F. Buckley's columns in The National Review.  It became obvious to me that he arrived at his positions clearly (and cleverly) because he was careful to define the playing field to the advantage of his opinions.  And then, he played ONLY on that field.

As one who was raised in a small town, far from the centers of influence, with little or no expectation of ever being able to enter or even access them, this felt like being hazed in high school.  I wasn't now, and could never hope to be a part of the in-crowd.  But my response, rather than seeking to ingratiate myself and attempt to enter this elite group, was to conclude that the very definitions themselves, while clever, did not accurately mesh with the messy world as it is.  So I dispensed with them.  I may not be able to offer an articulate answer to what appears to be a well-reasoned argument in the heat of the debate, but I am less invested in winning debate points than in probing the assumptions behind the arguments.

I come down on the side of recognizing that while the masses of people can behave like sheep, sometimes led to the slaughter by their own decisions to choose options which are against their interests, that I still trust them MORE than I do those who feel that their enlightened opinions are more important or valuable than those held by ordinary people.

Therefore, when I re-evaluate an historical figure that I've previously concluded is distasteful, I find that I am re-evaluating myself and find both things from which to repent and things for which to give thanks.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Changes: A New Nest for the Owl

As the traveler, usually I am telling stories about where I am going and how glad I am to return home.  And, since I enjoy both the leaving and the returning, I love sharing about both movements.  One of my teachers in seminary talked about this as the rhythm of "Access and Retirement".  Going out and coming in; like a contradance.

But today's post is about a change in venue.  But not the ones to which I travel to perform and teach.  This time the venue change is the location of where I'll return.

My spouse is a pastor, and after nearly 17 years of joyful and grateful service to the campus of Colorado State University through Lutheran Campus Ministry, she has resigned her call in order to accept the call to be Pastor of St. Andrews Lutheran Church in San Mateo, California.

This will be a huge change for us since we have grown to love being Coloradoans, but it is time and we are ready for the next adventures that await.  And, since both of our children are in the Bay Area (for the near future, anyway), we'll have the joy of connecting with them more frequently in person!

The timing of the change is certain for Connie, who will begin her service on January 1, 2014, but is less certain for me, since I will remain behind to fix up and prep our house for sale and stay with it until it sells.  So, I am assuming I'll be around for a couple of months, anyway.

I will continue teaching and performing and traveling, while preparing to re-root Owl Mountain Music, Inc. in its third nest since beginning in 1990.  For those of you keeping score:  Kansas City, MO, Fort Collins, CO and now San Mateo, CA.
Dancing at Aunt Darline's 1984

There are some other changes that have been underway this year:

I am also excited that I've been able to let go of responsibility for the Colorado Dulcimer Festival, which I began and ran for 10 years with a dedicated crew of volunteers.  These volunteers have incorporated and are planning to carry it on for several years into the future!

And, I am delighted that Scott Berwick has been elected to the office of Secretary-Treasurer of the Traveling Musicians Union, Local 1000 AFM.  He takes over when my term ends on Dec 31st of this year.

So, now I am in the process of shedding, shredding and packing in preparation!  All activities which make a perfect fit with autumnal rhythms.  Let's dance!