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the hope of seven generations, maybe more
I believe 1994 was the first year that I went to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, right about the time of Miranda was a year old. I believe it was also the year that Dar Williams first performed at Falcon Ridge. What was I thinking when I took my young daughters to this event? Sure, some of it was for the sheer joy of going such a wonderful folk festival, but what were my hopes for the girls? What were my hopes for them as I took them to piano lessons or drove them to summer camp? What were my parents hopes for me, when I was younger?
I took piano lessons when I was young. I sang in choirs, but none of that went all that far. My mother loved singing and had a great voice, before the essential tremors started.
I was standing by my window,
On one cold and cloudy day
"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" was the final song of the final workshop stage session of the final day of the Twenty Fifth Anniversary Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Like Friday night, when Red Molly and Susan Werner performed "May I Suggest", I was tired and wet from a passing rainstorm.
I closed my eyes and thought of my mother. She would be saying how proud she was of Mairead, going all the way to Japan. Her voice would be shaking from the essential tremors, and their would be a tear in her eye as she thought of how much she loved her grandchildren. My mother went to Germany with my father after they were married. He served in the Air Force in Germany during the Korean war. My mother never did get much more of a chance to travel, other than our summertime vacations to campgrounds along the Atlantic Ocean somewhere between Mount Desert Island and Cape Hatteras.
Her shaking would go on wistfully to say how excited she was for Miranda; about her book, for her singing, and all the wonderful opportunities that awaited her. My daughters didn't know my mother when she tried to pursue the arts while struggling to raise a family in Western Massachusetts. After cleaning out the family house, I brought home various artifacts of her creative endeavors.
When I saw that hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away
The audience stood to join in. I stood too, but could not sing; great performers on the stage, their children now performing on the Main Stage, an enthusiastic crowd; twenty five years of Falcon Ridge. Mairead was traveling in ways my mother only dreamed of. Miranda was singing in venues my mother couldn't even imagine. Memories of my mother during my childhood, all mingled together into a transcendent moment.
Earlier this summer, I ate a wonderful sweet juicy peach. I stood over the sink so the sweet flavors wouldn't make the floor sticky. I closed my eyes and was lost in the moment of eating the peach, nothing else existed but the sweetness of that peach. This moment at Falcon Ridge was like eating that peach.
When my daughter's were young, I used to sing "The Circle Game" to them as I put them to bed.
So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.
Have the dreams lost any grandeur coming true? Maybe for my daughters, I don't know, but not for me. This is the best part of my life. The circle remains unbroken.
this is the faith
That they invest in you
It's that you'll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what's yours to finally set right
Mairead and Miranda have already done so much more than just one better than was done before. Fiona is still young, but even now, she has done so much more than just one better too.
The circle has remained unbroken and this is the best part of our lives.
May I suggest
Friday night at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Main stage; Red Molly is covering Susan Werner's song, with Susan weaving in additional harmony. The rain has stopped, but I am tired, wet and cold.
Miranda is sitting next to me bubbling over with little giggles of joy. She has had a very good day.
May I suggest to you
This is my first night at Falcon Ridge since my mother died. A week ago, Mairead left for Japan. During Dar Williams set, I Skyped her in.
May I suggest this is the best part of your life.
Dar started her set with "The Babysitter's Here".
She says do me a favor don't go with a guy who would make you choose and
Mairead has chosen Japan. She has moved halt the world away to teach English and be nearer her girlfriend. Dar ends her set, like she usually does at Falcon Ridge singing "Iowa". The whole hillside holds up their flashlights, glowsticks, cellphones, or any other source of light, turning the whole hill into a human glowworm grotto, revealing the contours of the otherwise dark cloud. I wonder how many people come to Falcon Ridge specifically for that moment. I wonder what role it plays in bringing Dar back to Falcon Ridge.
And we walk in the world of safe people, and at night we walk into our houses and burn.
Earlier in the day, Miranda stepped out onto the workshop stage at Falcon Ridge. She had volunteered to work that stage as a great opportunity to learn more stage craft while listening to great music. The big set on the workshop stage on Friday was Vance Gilbert giving a critique of various performers. Vance is a great performer and can give scathing, yet productive critiques in a humorous way, slewing as many sacred cows along the way as possible.
He asked performers to get up and play a song that they are having trouble with. Miranda got up and performed her latest song. She had played it in public the first time, the night before at The Front Porch, one of the many song circles that cover the hillside late at night when there aren't performances at the main stage. She told Vance she didn't think it went all that well and was trying to figure out what to do with it.
Miranda has a strong stage presence. She approached the mic with confidence and started her song, not showing any trepidation about Vance saying "Freeze", and then illustrating to the gathered crowd what she was doing wrong. When Vance did stop her, it was with words of praise and Miranda continued on her song, with various interruptions and suggestions from Vance, and some great play between the two of them and the person doing the sign language interpretation at the edge of the stage.
Afterwords others approached Miranda. They told her she had done great the night before and asked her to play her song again. Later, she was asked to perform at a small stage for volunteers. It was in the middle of Dar Williams set, but she was willing to miss even Dar for a chance to work on her performance. She played a twenty minute set and was followed by Vance Gilbert. Afterwards the stage manager told her, "You just got to open for Vance Gilbert!"
And that's how she won the pretty girl game.
During Dar's set, she spoke about how we are all interconnected. She may not have known how interconnected that moment was, Miranda briefly telling Mairead about her experience and then all of us listening to Dar on a hillside in New York and somewhere in Japan, tied together via technology.
This is the best part of your life.
We live in a polarized society where just about everything is right or wrong, black or white, either/or, and rarely both/and. Perhaps this is some of the starting point of the discussion about the Amity High School Theatre Department's production of Sweeney Todd. It is violence ladened entertainment, or it is art. Even when talking about art, we find this dichotomy, art for art sake versus art as a means of societal change.
Last night, at the Amity Board of Education, I suggested a middle ground. Can we look at Sweeney Todd as both art for art sake, and art capable of bringing about positive societal change? Can art contain distasteful violence and be redeeming at the same time? If we are willing to step outside of our preconceived assumptions, it just might be possible.
For me, this relates back the whole idea of indirect lessons. Kids learn football for football's sake, yet at the same time, they are learning about teamwork. There's a lot of teamwork you learn when you are in a musical. Yet there's even more. There is a certain amount of emotional intelligence and empathy that can be indirectly learned by the cast and the audience a like. There can be catharsis and redemption even in a play about revenge.
Amity has a great tradition of theatre, yet one thing that I've not been able to find around that has been groups gathering to share with one another what they have experienced and learned from attending the productions.
The dust up around the production of Sweeney Todd appears to be offering an opportunity to fill this need. Over in a discussion on the Orange Patch, The Rev. Ann Ritonia wrote,
"a community discussion on violence is a wonderful idea. All are invited to attend a continuation of a community dialogue on April 23rd at St. Barbara's Greek Orthodox Church sponsored by the Orange Interfaith Clergy Fellowship. Prevention of Violence in our Culture: The Next Steps will begin at 7 pm and childcare will be provided. The public is welcome and Middle and High School Students are most welcome to participate in the discussion."
I hope people will attend Sweeney Todd. I hope they will then join the discussion at St. Barbara's Church. Let's celebrate and share art for art's sake that brings about positive social change.
This evening, I attended the Amity Board of Education meeting, where the public comment ended up being about the theatre department's upcoming production of "Sweeney Todd". I decided to go after I saw an announcement in the Patch, Violence Continues at Amity High School.
It was an unfortunate headline for an unfortunate announcement. The violence continuing at the high school is in the form of the musical, "Sweeney Todd". One high school student commented that the only violence at the school is freshmen during the first part of the school year, and that most of the time, Amity High School is a pretty mellow place.
The announcement resulted in an article in the Patch, "Parents Plannning [sic] to Protest at Amity BOE Meeting". It appeared in both the Bethwood Patch and the Orange Patch. Between the two articles and the announcement, there have been around 40 comments on the topic. It was also picked up in the New York Times.
Many of the comments talked about those opposing the production as "small-minded protesters [who] should be ashamed of themselves" and who "should get a grip on reality". Yet I think this misrepresents what is going on.
The first person to speak talked about an inter-faith coalition that was concerned about violence in society, and particularly as it exists in the media. She raised concerns about the violence in the musical and if it was teaching the sort of lessons we want to teach our youth. Others spoke about the musical in terms of art.
I spoke about how, perhaps if we think seriously, the two positions aren't as far apart as people would like to imagine. Art is a powerful way for people to deal with trauma, with the evil that is in the world. It provides an opportunity for people to discuss violence and the sort of society that we want to be part of.
I encouraged everyone to attend the musical, and then to gather with friends to discuss it and broader topics of violence in society. Afterwards, I encouraged the husband of the first speaker to attend, and to distribute leaflets inviting other theatre goers to an open discussion on a later date about violence in society and how art, and the musical addresses this problem. We shall see if anyone takes me up on this.
After I spoke, Howard Sherman echoed some of the same themes, reflecting on Sondheim's words, "Art isn't easy". Art isn't easy. Confronting evil and violence in our world isn't easy. Teaching our children isn't easy. But all of it can come together to help make the world a better place.
So, please come see Sweeney Todd, and then engage in discussions about the music with your friends and neighbors. Join in a broader discussion about how we can make our community a better place.
(This blog post has also been submitted to The Patch)