Sacred Sunday: “As One Who Has Slept,” John Tavener

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Today, in the Christian tradition, is one of the last significant days in the liturgical calendar before Ash Wednesday: Transfiguration Sunday.  This day marks the occasion that Jesus transfigured, or metamorphosed, before his disciples – upon summiting the top of a mountain, Jesus’s face and clothes shone with a white light.  While emanating this heavenly brilliance, Jesus is seen to speak with the prophets Elijah and Moses, both long since dead, about the upcoming final months of his life.  Peter asks whether he and the others should prepare three shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  But before he finishes, the voice of God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Elijah and Moses disappear.

This story is important for a few reasons.  First, it identifies Jesus as the proxy of God on earth – the people’s judge, savior, and direct link with the divine.  Second, it previews the resurrection – of Jesus himself, and of all who believe in him.  But I love this story for another reason: I love it because of the achingly human motivation behind Peter’s question.  He acts as anyone who has experienced something transformative would act: they want to freeze time.  Sailing right past the fact that Elijah and Moses are very, very dead, Peter wants to set up camp for them (They’re here now, aren’t they?).  He wants to keep them there.  This is, of course, impossible.  But, God love him for trying.

We take two-dimensional pictures of landscapes, of people, to capture their three-dimensional physicality, and the multi-dimensional feelings we felt upon seeing them.  We tattoo our skin to immortalize a meaningful time in our lives.  Even though we know, as Peter must have rationally known, it isn’t possible to suspend time and trap a moment, or a person, or a ghost, still we can’t help ourselves from trying.  The promise of Jesus is that he will connect us to the eternal.  One day, we will be able to relive these moments.  One day, we will be able to never be without someone again.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which leads to the retelling of the crucifixion narrative, and then onward to glorious, redemptive Easter.  I am approaching this season of Lent with more dread than in other years because I know that, this year, I have more of Peter in me than I’ve had before.  I lost a very close friend and mentor to cancer last year – my choir director.  His death comprehensively hollowed out church and sacred music, and though I have continued singing, nevertheless, that hole is still there.  And so, half of me expects his resurrection at Easter.  It’s a bafflingly irrational feeling but I can’t help myself from envisioning him conducting the timpani and brass quartet ornamenting “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” as we all process in, and completely accepting that he’s there.  “Oh, hey – Ben’s not dead!” would be as easy to say as “Oh, hey – Ben made it back from vacation in time for the service!”  The other half of me – the sane half – knows that Easter will bring back so many happy memories, now bittersweet, that it will feel like Ben is, in fact, there in spirit.  I will want to freeze that feeling.

That, of course, will be impossible.  But, God will love me for trying.

Tavener’s piece comes from the Liturgy for Great and Holy Saturday: “As one who has slept, the Lord has risen; and rising, he has saved us.  Alleluia.”

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Worldly Wednesday: “Wondering, feat. CAPS,” Yotto

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In keeping with this week’s apparent (and accidental) Scandinavian theme, today we travel from Sweden to its erstwhile east wing, Finland.

Finland is a really neat country, a land of 5.5 million passionate and brooding people who all know how to tango.  This track, from Finland’s most exciting young electronic musician, Otto Yliperttula – aka, Yotto, is all about passionate and brooding.  Yotto specializes in deep house music and last spring joined the highly respectable house label, Anjunadeep.  Though he has arguably more popular tracks, this one is my favorite.  When the beat drops at 4:48, it’s like merging onto an empty Autobahn in an exquisitely sleek sports car. 

Termagant Tuesday: “Dear Old Stockholm,” Eddie Higgins Trio

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On this day in 1520, Sten Sture the Younger (you remember him), the regent of Sweden, was mortally wounded at the Battle of Bogesund and died on the ice of Lake Mälaren.  Sture’s big thing was independence from Denmark, which, while that’s clearly been taken care of by now, remains an amusing point of contention between these two countries.  Ikea (you remember Ikea), a Swedish company, has a puckish habit of naming their flooring after towns in Denmark.  “Oh ho ho!” you might say.  “How very puckish!”

Well, yeah, but if Burberry named their door mats “Boston,” “New York,” and “Philadelphia,” it might be a little annoying.  (Then again, Americans are narcissistic enough to think of it as a compliment, so IDK.)  Klaus Kjoller, of the University of Copenhagen, discovered that Ikea had named foot-wiping items after Danish towns, concluding this was an insult because, rationally, “Doormats and runners, as well as inexpensive wall-to-wall carpeting, are third-class, if not seventh-class, items when it comes to home furnishings.”  Burn!

Charlotte Lindgren, an Ikea spokesperson, responded by explaining that, even if this HAD been a thing Ikea had done intentionally, which it totally wasn’t so stop alleging it was, it’s a compliment!  “These critics appear to greatly underestimate the importance of floor coverings.  They are fundamental elements of furnishing. We draw worldwide attention to Danish place names with our products. That has to be a positive thing.”  Snap!

So, today, give thanks for Sten – for fighting for Sweden’s independence, and for insuring that one of the world’s largest, most confusing meatball-and-furniture companies can foment mild diplomatic spats with their rugs. Skål!

Modernism Monday: “Que Sera Sera,” Sly & The Family Stone

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I am white woman who grew up in a series of small, almost entirely white towns.  I attended a homogenous high school and a pretty homogenous college.  My childhood hero, Kirby Puckett, was black, but maybe because he was only about two inches tall on his baseball cards, it never occurred to me that he was a difference race.  I just didn’t see it.  This isn’t a case of charming “race blindness” that we all hope little kids have.  It was a stereotypical case of a small brain rationalizing new information in its own little limited context.

The first time I truly understood there were different people in the world wasn’t because I met them in person – that came later – but because I heard them.  Sly & The Family Stone’s calmly resigned, melancholy version of the Doris Day’s chipper “Que Sera Sera” was an undeniable clue that my worldview was an exception to the norm.  Doris’s “Que Sera Sera” was indefatigably hopeful because it was founded on the certainty that it was the way of her world for things to work out for the best.  As I was the white daughter of two upper middle class parents, living in a safe neighborhood, the “whatever” that “will be” in my life, too, was pretty much guaranteed to be one of a selection of good options.  I hated Doris’s song because it was too treacly, not because it wasn’t true.

Doris Day’s version came out in 1948, three years after America had emerged victorious from World War II with a strong economy.  Things were on the up and up.  1948 also marked two fundamental milestones for civil rights.  In February, Truman sent a letter to Congress on the issue of the rights of African Americans, the first sitting president in history to address the issue.  His letter recognized cracks in the social contract that had been there for centuries:

“Today, the American people enjoy more freedom and opportunity than ever before. Never in our history has there been better reason to hope for the complete realization of the ideals of liberty and equality.  We shall not, however, finally achieve the ideals for which this Nation was founded so long as any American suffers discrimination as a result of his race, or religion, or color, or the land of origin of his forefathers.  Unfortunately, there still are examples—flagrant examples—of discrimination which are utterly contrary to our ideals. Not all groups of our population are free from the fear of violence. Not all groups are free to live and work where they please or to improve their conditions of life by their own efforts. Not all groups enjoy the full privileges of citizenship and participation in the government under which they live.”

And, five months later, Truman  signed an executive order ending racial segregation in the armed forces – in the face of overwhelming criticism from the various service secretaries.

The following year, the number of lynchings went up.

In Doris Day’s America, there was already “complete realization of the ideals of liberty and equality.”  In the entire United States of America, however, not so much.  Twenty years and the birth of a movement later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated, riots would set major cities on fire throughout the country, and finally, public schools would begin to de-segregate.  So in 1973, when Sly & The Family Stone reinterpreted Day’s message, it really wasn’t all that clear what the future would hold for all Americans.  Would the country realize that it was fragmented into different pockets of affluence, poverty, and luck?  Would it care?  Who would help whom, and how?  Would Dr. King’s message reach anyone anymore, or would he become a sentimentalized figurehead wheeled out every year so white people could express politically correct devotion to the idea of equality?

In 2008 when America elected its first black president, many announced that we were now living in a “post-racial America.”  On the contrary: we have spent the last seven years grappling with why this still isn’t true.

In King’s words, “Whatever you do, you have to keep moving forwards.”  Given we truly do have the power to collectively change our environments, we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to spend today in acts of service, yes, but also imagining what about the country we would want to change.  Consider how we would unify the country that still remains a loose collection of affluence, poverty, and luck.  And then, tomorrow, start moving forwards.

 

Sacred Sunday: “Toumast Anlet,” Tamikrest

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“The situation of the Touareg is very difficult right now. Even before I played the guitar and started recording, I had this ambition to be a lawyer or you might say, an ‘advocate’. I wanted to be capable of expressing the hurt I felt in my heart, and speak out about the situation, even at the United Nations. Because we’re a people who don’t have journalists, we don’t have advocates. But it was only later that I realised that a musician can play that role. What is the weakest part of any nation or people? It’s ignorance. We are stuck in our ignorance. I see the world changing, racing ahead, and leaving us behind. And the only thing that is holding us back is our ignorance. As artists, it’s our duty to make our problems known to the world, to sing songs about the nomadic life, about our traditions and culture. But above all, revolutionary songs, about what we see, about what the government is doing to our people, which makes no sense to me.”
– Ousmane Ag Mossa, leader of Tamikrest

FRIEND WEEK! Worldly Wednesday: “Man x Woman,” Mar. Submitted by Ryan.

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Yankette’s Reaction:

This guy has one heck of a voice.  The range and the control is just gorgeous.  I love how spare the song itself is, too.  There’s no unnecessary production – just a man with a sexy song and a guitar.  Effective, soulful, and different.  I’m a fan.

Shameless friend promotion!  If you like humor, sexy songs, and haikus, check out Ryan over at the wonderful blog, The Wheelhouse Review.

Ryan’s Justification:

I present to you Mar, a Dutch Danish Dutch soul singer from Amsterdam. Dutch soul, you ask? I was skeptical at first too when I first came across his “Mar Variations.” Although I am as worldly as I am handsome, I assumed the Dutch only did wooden clogs and red light district(s), certainly not soul music. But after hearing his ridiculously smooth voice on the second “variation” he released, 1st session, I was hooked. He is now firmly in the category of artists I’d pay for an album of them singing names in the phone book. Or to quote Michael Bolton on Michael Bolton, “I celebrate his entire catalogue.”

Given his Michael Bolton status, it was hard to pick one song, but I decided to go for this one because it’s just a guitar and his voice. This version of “Man x Woman” is a stripped down, acoustic version of the original song, which as all things Mar I celebrate, but had a club/EDM beat that didn’t showcase his voice as much as this version does. The acoustic rendition has all the features of his music, and especially his voice, that find him prominently featured in two of my most-played iPod playlists “head noddin’ pre party” (check out 2u4u for that) and “baby makin’ music” (check out “our attempt” for that). You hear the jazz-inspired ad libbing, the impressive falsettos, and just the absurdly soultastic smoothness of his voice. Seriously, it’s like a silkworm dipped in cocoa butter, topped off with a sprinkling of baby powder. As a bonus, he belts out some falsetto and upper register notes (especially starting at the 3:08 mark) with power you normally don’t hear him show off. Enjoy. And hit me up if you want either of those playlists. You’ll thank me later.

Modernism Monday: “Echo,” Helen Jane Long

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The author of a book I read years ago described jet lag as a soul, on a tether to the physical body, making its way back home after the body has traveled too far, too fast.  That may or may not explain why I’ve felt slightly catatonic all day today, and why this post is so late.  Another explanation is a deep sense of contented stability brought about from returning to a good life that I have worked hard to create.  Either/or.

Good night.