Updated from the original 2014 post, so that folk who’ve tuned in late may have some context for, er, current events.
At various times and places throughout his life on this planet, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has been told that he has a respectable singing voice. Generally, YFNA has been content to leave this judgement to others. Though it has occurred to him that, oftentimes, such comments have been ploys to pry these hideous brass contraptions off of his face. Contraptions that he most definitely did not learn to play respectably until it was almost too late.
But that he insisted on playing anyway.
Y’see, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has long preferred to do instrumental rather than vocal music. Because, with instrumental music, any feelings, any emotions, that somehow manage to poke through the wrong notes, duck-quack tone quality, and ear-warping intonation of the amateur’s horn, are the unconstrained result of right now’s one-on-one encounter between the player and the chart.
With vocal music, you’ve got lyrics.
A pack of damned words that sit on the music stand like a tyrant in a field marshal’s uniform, barking orders that instruct you just how you will feel about this tune, soldier. Or else.
And to an Amoeba of a certain age, it appeared that 17 out of every 10 sets of song lyrics were either desperate ploys to get someone to go to bed with them, or desperate laments over the someone(s) that did go to bed with them, and the whole business seemed to be far more trouble than it was worth.
Not exactly the emotions that will lead to the successful delivery of a love song.
Is it necessary to point out that the Amoeba of a certain age didn’t get a whole lot of dates? And was content? Until some girl tackled him – in the middle of a high-school concert band field trip, no less – and let him know, over the next several months, that it really was more trouble than it was worth. But, by then, the damage had been done. Alas.
Now, because lyrics are tyrants, they give you little excuse for not perceiving the intellectual and emotional intent of the author. And should you, the performer, fall in with the author’s intent – well, that’s a powerful combination.
Which is why YFNA hopes never again to have to perform the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Because if he gets sucked into a performance, and the director doesn’t ‘get it’, YFNA is walking out of the rehearsal and damn the consequences.
In case, dear reader, you don’t know, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, aka “Glory Hallelujah” or “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”, is one of the most popular patriotic songs of these Untied States. Its lyrics were penned by Julia Ward Howe on the morning after she witnessed a body of Union soldiers marching off to fight the
Confederate Revolutionary American Civil War – a war that ended chattel slavery (almost entirely of peoples imported into America from sub-Saharan Africa) in the USA, and prevented the establishment of a separate nation (the Confederate States of America) that would have preserved slavery, its economy having come to depend on it.
The original lyrics consisted of six verses. Most renditions that YFNA has seen, or participated in, have no more than four, with the last being:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Ah, but Our Fellow Americans have a bit of a problem with that word “die” – when it doesn’t mean a machine tool, or half of a pair of dice, or spelled with a “y” and hitched to a compound the first part of which is “tie-“. As George Carlin famously exclaimed when confronted with New Hampshire license plates bearing the state motto, “Live Free or Die”:
Die? Die?!? I don’t want to die!!
Neither, it seems, do a lot of choir directors. Who change the offending line in the Battle Hymn to:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free
Thomas Bowdler did less damage to Shakespeare.
Americans tried to live to make men free for most of the first five decades of the 19th century. Political machinations, social movements, and even heroic enterprises such as the Underground Railroad, served mainly to unite the southern states of the American Union in defense of their “peculiar institution”. And when that Union elected a President – Abraham Lincoln – who promised concrete action towards making men free, the South vowed to preserve slavery by breaking up the Union, or die trying. To which the North responded that it would preserve the Union, or die trying.
And they did die. The
Confederate Revolutionary American Civil War cost more American lives than Americans have suffered in all of the USA’s other wars combined. In the South, economies died along with the soldiers. By some estimates, it took the former Confederate States a full century to rebuild their economies to anything approaching pre-war status. Slavery died de jure, but it was, again, a full century before slavery died de facto, and, as current events have made abundantly clear, the descendants of slaves still fight slavery’s vestiges.
To YFNA, it is a bitter irony that most of the persons who would “live” to make men free profess the Christian faith. Jesus of Nazareth understood, if the New Testament accounts are even remotely historical, that, if one is not prepared to offer the ultimate sacrifice in support of what one believes, one really is not prepared to offer any sacrifice at all – and any pretense to the contrary is empty posturing. Julia Ward Howe understood this, she lived it in the context of her time and her marching soldiers, and this is why she wrote what she did. To change what she wrote, YFNA thinks, particularly to change it in this way, does violence to her message, and reveals the revisionist “Christians” to be little more than just another comfortable club.
Of course, members of a comfortable club do not wish to contemplate making hard, potentially sacrificial, choices – just as American politicians in the first half of the 19th century ducked hard, potentially sacrificial, choices with a series of compromises that, in the event, merely postponed the inevitable and made it destructive to the point of annihilation.
Global warming, YFNA thinks, demands hard, sacrificial choices in personal living standards, right now, today. Personal daily energy use needs to decline, nothing less will serve. Last YFNA knew, it was increasing. In that context, all pontifications about global warming are without form and void. We are voting for global warming. And, in the November 2016 elections and their political, economic, and social aftermath, We the People of these Untied States have made the vote explicit.
The revelation of bigotry by a certain owner of an American major league sports franchise demands hard, sacrificial, individual choices, right now, today. Spectators need to abandon the franchise, if not the league that tolerates the franchise; nothing less will get the lasting attention of the franchise, or the league. YFNA expects the arenas to be sold out, the media ratings to set records. In that context, all pontifications about racism are without form and void. We are voting for racism. See above under “global warming”, and also, as YFNA reads (he no longer follows any aspect of this festering blot on what’s left of our collective conscience), the continuing financial success and high social profile of the league in question.
YFNA does understand that the sports owner’s difficulties stemmed from interactions with a girlfriend. Perhaps the gentleman is now contemplating that the whole business is more trouble than it’s worth (in YFNA’s case, present company excepted).