Monday, November 03, 2008

always a band

If I had to pick one literary work to represent what I think best represents American culture, "The Music Man" would rate in the top five.

Meredith Willson presented America, in all of its early twentieth century naiveté, confronting the classic con man. And, being conned, teaches the con man that he really believes in his own dream; that the con is not a con.

Perhaps, one of the most memorable lines in Broadway history is Professor Hill's reassurance to Winthrop: "I always believe there's a band, kid."

Well, I guess I always believe there's a band, as well. Last August, I noted in
can't stop the music that I had lost a good deal of interest in music. I had no idea why.

I can now say that music and I have had a reconciliation.

I noticed it in church on Sunday morning.

Those of you who read my blog now and then will know that I attend the Salvation Army church. We have something most churches do not have: a brass band. On Sunday the and played "Amazing Grace" for the offertory.

If there is an unofficial American hymn, it is "Amazing Grace. (And, yes, I know John Newton was English.)

To say that I am not partial to classic hymns is an understatement, but something about the band's arrangement intrigued me.

That afternoon I attended a concert by the Salem Concert Band. Like many small American towns, mine has maintained the tradition of a volunteer concert band that performs in a restored theater.

They usually perform a series of easy-listening band pieces topped off by a more challenging piece for both the audience and the performers. (There is an older fellow who sits behind me who mutters during every performance. "Why don't they play something I know.")

Today's theme was Celtic music. As I sat there listening to the band and the announcements of Irish dance lessons at the VFW hall, I was once again reminded that Salem is not Portland or Seattle or San Francisco, where our celebration of the simple and the familiar would probably be seen as a bit naive.

But I put that thought aside when the Oregon Defence Forces bagpipe band joined the concert band for the concert finale. The second to last selection was "Amazing Grace" -- twice in one day. I got the message someone was telling me something.

I pride myself on being a somewhat sophisticated fellow. I can be a bit sarcastic about simple and familiar things (as if I were one of my cool London friends). But I found myself tearing up while listening to the bagpipes play that familiar tune backed by the full chords of the concert band.

But why? Maybe for the same reason that Anne Lamott noted in her essay "Knocking at Heaven's Gate:

I can't imagine anything but music that could have brought about this alchemy. Maybe it's because music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We're walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn't get any other way.

Maybe. All I know is that whatever happened today, I can say that I always believe there's a band.


Anonymous said...


As Christian 'Amazing Grace' says it all for me.


Bob Mrotek said...

Oh, no, Steve. You went and put an earwig in my head. I will now be humming "76 Trombones" all day long :)

Steve Cotton said...

Judy -- And that, of course, is the primary purposes of hymns: to worship God and proclaim the essence of our faith.

Bob -- It could be worse. I could have simply mentioned: "It's A Small World, After All."

glorv1 said...

Amazing Grace does it for me. How funny Bob will be listening to trombones all day. (ha-ha). Thx. for the nice comments on my blog Steve. Have a great day and hugs for Jiggs.

Babs said...

Yes, I remember when, in some communication, you told me you didn't have music in your life anymore. I was speechless (which NEVER happens)....I'm thrilled you're back on track, enriching your days with music.

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- And analyzing the notes out of it.

Gloria -- Have a great day.

Alan said...

Steve, maybe you are just preparing for a Gary W Christmas concert of Tubas in the Capitol! Alan

Steve Cotton said...

Al -- you have not been keeping upo with the brass news. Tuba Christmas grew so large that it was moved to the Elsinore. This year, having still grown, it is moving to the Armory. Just another piece of evidence that Salem has not shaken off its midwestern roots.

Laurie said...

Ah Steve! Another home run! This blog entry is one of your best. Even though I don't like old hymns, I do like Amazing Grace. I could play that song a hundred times on my old piano. I could if I hadn't given the piano to a church that flooded out in Katrina. They needed it for funerals, they said.

Cory said...

Why did you have to bring up, "It's A Small World After All"!!!???

Steve Cotton said...

Because I am evil?