music was in town last weekend. This was the end of his month-long visit to the United
States that began with the Minnesota State Shape Note Convention then took him around
the country with some time in the deep south (where this tradition was maintained over
the years). He ended his trip where he began, back in Minnesota, where he attended a
calligraphy conference and where, on his last evening in the country, he joined a small
group of his friends here for dinner and singing.
Jim hosted the dinner at his house in St. Paul. It was just me and Denise and her daughter
Anna and our friend Bill (proprietor of the wonderful emporium Tea Source) and Bill's
4-year-old daughter Maggie plus Jim's wife Kit and his teenage daughters Anna and Gretchen.
I had had a long tiring day, marching with the Minneapolis Police Band in the Anoka
Halloween Parade. The weather had taken a turn for the winter on Saturday, and bleak
clouds brought night on early. But when I climbed the many stairs that lead up to Jim's
house I felt a great sense of calm and joy and comfort; the light and warmth from within
the house was palpable. Jim and Kit and Bernard were sitting in the living room eating fine
cheeses and drinking red wine. I added roasted garlic walnut pate to the buffet and sat
in the rocking chair. We talked about Kit's trip south last weekend, and Bernard's travels.
The other guests arrived, bringing more pleasantry to the proceedings.
Jim had made the sort of dinner he makes on a winter's night: roast beef, mashed parsnips,
potatos, sauteed chard, and a good salad. There was rich chocolate brownie cake for dessert
and more wine for me. At Jim's there is always good tea, from Tea Source of course. We talked
about many things, including Gretchen's chemistry class fun the previous morning -- which was
Avogadro's day: 6:02 on 10/23. Get it? Hee-hee.
We started to sing while we were still at the table. This is a group I live to sing with. Jim
asked Bernard to sing his version of a traditional song about a soldier and a sailor, a song with
a chorus he sings to the tune of Pleasant and Delightful. We know that melody intimately, and
at each chorus we filled that dining room with harmony and pure delight in singing. This was the
evening's moment, perhaps the weekend's moment, perhap's the moment that is emblematic of a
particular kind of joy I feel privileged and fortunate to have in my life right now. These are
people who love to sing like this as much as I do, without explanation or embarrassment. This
is singing wholly divorced from any sense of performance. We know each other, we know each other
well, we care about each other as family, with all that implies. I couldn't have had that moment
without the evening that surrounded it, or even the several years that preceded it, but in that
moment I was, well, in that moment.
Bill's daughter Maggie wanted to sing I Won't Turn Back, an unusual song in itself and an
unexpected song for a child to request. Bill said that he sings that with Maggie at home all
the time. You have to picture this tiny girl, sitting with her father, singing out at the top of
her lungs with a group of people singing a fugueing tune around a dining room table.
We returned to the living room for more singing, this time out of various shape-note hymn books.
Bernard had a very good time, as he could sing anything he desired and there would be people
on all the parts, inside the music. He says he'll be back. He travels halfway around the world
for this. I have to travel only up the road a bit.