Thursday, August 24, 2006

The best thing to come home with me from Colrain...

When our Village Harmony campers were saying goodbye, one said: "Watching Peter and Mary Alice (the other two teachers) together, I was seeing a really good marriage. I'd like to treat my own spouse that way and I'm going to go home and try." It's not that Peter and Mary Alice don't have disagreements, but they interact always with kindness and grace. They've been married and making music together for over 30 years. It was an inspiration to me too. It's important to see, at least occasionally, what a good relationship looks like.

The Amidons unexpectedly inspired me in another way. Camp works like this: each of the three teachers comes with a fistful of songs; we teach in rotation through the week; the campers and teachers then perform all the songs together. I brought my fistful of songs and the Amidons brought theirs. We'd each arranged our own songs. (Arranging: you start out with the simple tune, the way you'd hum it in your room by yourself, and then write four-part harmony so a chorus can sing it.)

I'd never really thought much about my arranging: it was a skill picked up along the way because it's usually faster to make something from scratch than to find it elsewhere. I've sometimes written tunes for the same reason: when the Solstice Assembly was hired to do an all-Shakespeare performance, there weren't enough suitable "Elizabethan" songs to be found so I wrote a few. When we used to play at Scottish country dances, it sometimes was easier to write a tune to match a certain dance than it would have been to find one in my books.

But I noticed that Peter and Mary Alice are proud of what they've done, and tickled when singers sing their arrangements!

And they were, graciously, surprisingly, impressed with my work and treated it like it mattered.

It wasn't until the long drive home that their praise started to percolate into my mind. That's when I mused that, although I don't think of myself as a creative person, I've made a lot of things - clothes and papier-maché theatrical props and paintings and my house - and also quite a few songs and tunes - and that if I gave myself some credit, maybe I'd do it more often.

So, seeing as how the fall season of the Triangle Jewish Chorale is coming up quickly and I don't yet have any new music for them, I sat down yesterday and wrote a song from scratch and arranged it. From nothing to something in one afternoon!

And then, as a chaser, I wrote a verse, in Yiddish, for the wonderful Aaron Lebedeff song "Vot Ken Yu Makh, Es Iz Amerike!" (which is a wonderful title, a mishmash of English and Yiddish, meaning: "What can you do, it's America!"). You can hear the song here - search the page for Lebedeff. OK, go listen! Now, wasn't that great?

Since I understand more Yiddish now, I see the second verse is about how in Europe girls get married and afterwards start pumping out the kids, but in America they do it the other way around and have the kids first. "People like to save expenses, that's why they have the wedding and the bris at the same time. When the couple comes home from the wedding, there's the cradle, and in it, a baby already prepared!"

Since I didn't think we could sing that, in a half-hour of unmitigated chutzpah I sat down with my dictionary and wrote a different verse. It even rhymes. Wow! Do you think this means I can take my trip to Paris, to the Yiddish Zumerkurs, off my taxes?

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