Sunday, October 3, 2010

As John Paul Said

In the process of getting up my new chops with John Henry Newman's Lead, Kindly Light, I have discovered an amazing coincidence. I wouldn't go so far at this point to call this concatenation of labels the kind of association which Aristotle insists is a sign of genius, but I do find it too utterly delightful to be ignored, to go unstated. This is the fact that the tune for Newman's soul searching words - better, his God searching words - is called Sandon.
Newman, although he was a violinist as well as a theologian, did not himself write the melody. This was done, along with the arrangement, by one Charles Henry Purday. Did they joke with each other about having the same middle name? Purday was virtually a precise contemporary, and, for the moment, I have no idea where he got the name for his lovely little tune. But I do know that Sandon is also a ghost town, once a thriving mining camp, half-way along the Kaslo - New Denver highway, and I have even been there a number of times. The first occasion was in 1969, in August, when my friend and fellow folk musician Eric Johnson drove us through on our way up the Forestry road that led to the summit of Idaho Peak, at that time of the year,  a multi-acred park of wild flowers, continually made famous around the world by post cards.
This was not simply a ramble through our magnificent outback, or yet a  look into a location of the mining industry that had opened up the West Kootenay to rest of the world, but some quite necessary R and R marking the winding down of a period of very demanding social and spiritual work I had been put to after leaving the classroom. I think Eric knew I had been mightily under the gun, and that a day in the hills would be a most healthy antidote. But it was also a bit of a celebration, as we had been able by that time to find our next place to live, our third  in Nelson, and as those quarters were to feature a great deal of work in music, in recording as well as performance, the celebration was in the way of being in advance of those events. Eric was in fact a big part of all that music that was to come, just as he had been a big part of my surprising education as to the larger truth of the reasons I had been so inspired to come to Nelson, after my shocking realizations over the true state of the leadership in the diocese. Certain clergy were not worth knowing, except for the sake of doing God's will by trying to save their souls whereas Eric and a number his fellow indigenous musicians certainly were excellent company, instructive to my decidedly amateur self as well as consoling. Folk music was not only entertaining and a swift way to make new and satisfying friends, but it also offered more truth and integrity than a number of performances in local pulpits.
It also offered a threat and a warning to one of the major ring leaders of the Catholic leadership cabal of those days, even without my realizing it at the time. God and His providence are always at least a little bit incomprehensible in the hour of the events He provokes and promotes.

Don't sing love songs, you'll wake my mother,
She's sleeping here, right by my side,
In her right hand is a silver dagger,
She's vowed that I'll not be your bride.

My Daddy is a handsome devil,
He's got a chain that's five miles long,
From every link there's a heart that dangles,
Of another girl he's loved and wronged.

The autumn of 1964 I recall as full of the best of an Indian summer in the Kootenays, with an initial few weeks of the simple joys of the academic life to be found on any campus, mingled with the the intellectual pleasures of a Catholic campus at least theoretically connected with the wisdom of the Scriptures and the great and incomparable Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Briefly, especially with all the precise and lovely practical connections with settling back into her old home town that had worked out for Shawn and me, I thought I had come to an earthly paradise, where all our talents would be able to flourish according to all those demands set by Christ in the Gospels. We were fast making friends among the students, as well as connecting - reconnecting in Shawn's case - with her old friends, and we were both cast in a Shakespeare play. The experiences of Terrace's opportunities in culture were rolling forward, and it seemed only a matter of time until more of my original insights from the Holy Spirit came to fruition.
And yet the Holy Spirit, intervening in his usual fashion, had begun as well as inviting me to note the glories of the autumn landscape and the startling energy of the local culture, to think of the awesome strictures of the prophets of the Bible, and had begun to point out in no uncertain terms that whatever earlier flirtations I had experienced with the idea of being a prophet had  now become serious indeed. For one thing, the senior instructor in theology, Father Gilbert Kershaw, a retired Scripture professor, master of an unthinkable number of languages, from England and in our corner of the universe via his relationship with a brother, and engineer at Cominco in Trail, had one afternoon looked at most meaningfully while he discoursed  on Jeremiah; and on other occasions, especially on Sunday afternoons at home, in our house two blocks up the hill from the Cathedral, I was much moved to digest Ezekiel, especially in the passages wherein God told him he would be punished if he failed to warn the sinner. This was by no means the first time I had put long hours into studied the Book of Books, and I had earlier sometimes mused over the idea of the prophet's role, but never as I can recall at the same time as being told it was about to become something of an actual job.
I can't say that I rejoiced in the prospect. For one thing - and this is the most important - real prophets never do, because it's a miserable life, or more accurately, a segment of life. Prophecy, unlike mysticism, is not a habit. Thank heaven. If it were, the prophet would be habitually miserable, like a parent who could do nothing else with his children except punish them, or a priest who could never see anything in his parish but constant mortal sin. Fortunately it comes and goes, at God's will, and when the prophet is not in the prophetical mood, which is most of the time, not  only is life much more pleasant, but he can hardly believe he ever had what it took to take on any section of mankind for its wretched defiance of one or more of the Almighty's common sense directions.
It was especially on Sunday afternoons that I seemed drawn to the prophetical section, read them all, but was especially struck by God's warning to Ezekiel about going down with the sinner that he failed to warn.
"This means you," was unavoidable. Yet there was no accompanying specific image of address, nor would there be for months to come, in fact a full year. Nonetheless, I read, I pondered, and I watched the days unfold.
I had got to know Eric very early on in my short-lived career on the campus. He was part of a duo, who sang very well together, and they were headliners at a big banquet given to honour the formal opening of Maryhall, the combination gym, cafeteria, and as it was to turn out, concert hall and arena of the voice of rebuke, even though that would be unknown at the time to the rebukers. Eric and a young lady named Eva Blondell, from Vancouver Island, rendered up a ripping version of  the old Gospel-Folk standard, When the Stars Begin to Fall. Actually, that too was something of a prophetical warning, because Eric especially held a place in the register of those who, as singers in the folk tradition, those who play just as meaningful a role as the court jester, send out messages to the people in power, either in Church or State. And Eva had a voice that cut, as the critics say, to the heart of the issue. It was a magnificant performance, and as a musician I had no alternative but to make acquaintance as swiftly as possible, if only because this performance seemed to be solid evidence of the reality of the things to come I had experienced in my brief career on the new television station in Terrace.
The acquaintance was struck, there was much discussion about the talents in the area and the delight Shawn and I could expect from joining forces with it, and quite swiftly the idea of a grand Hootenanny was conceived. Eric was also the drummer in a campus band called "The Gents", and a very sound plot decreed that the local folk singers would throw a concert to be followed by a dance featuring the band.
That's probably quite enough for one bedtime story. Tune in next week, the Muse permitting. Or maybe tomorrow, the same authorities applying.

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