Friday, May 22, 2009

Music and patriotism

I've been a bad blogger lately. It's been well over a month since I've written a proper post either here or on Castles of Air. Partly that's because I've had abundant life stress on multiple fronts, which I don't really want to go into here. But I think it's a good time for me to update various things that have interested me lately.

I have a chorus concert coming up tomorrow evening. The music selection is better than it has been in a while, so if you live in Austin and like music, there are worse ways you could spend your evening tomorrow night than buying a ticket and attending.

The lineup is:
W.A. Mozart, Missa Brevis
Leonard Bernstein, Chichester Psalms
Haydn, Te Deum
Frank Tichelli, Earth Song
Randall Stroope, Homeland

The last two obviously aren't as well known as the other three. Both of them are a lot more musically simplistic but very emotional sounding. The Tichelli strikes me thematically as sort of a hippy song -- "The shattered earth cries out in vain..." and "Music and singing have been my refuge" and ends with "I'll see peace." It's corny but the music is actually quite nice. And there's a giant PowerPoint presentation over our heads, with pictures of people crying or enjoying themselves, and sunsets and rainbows and things.

Now, the last one, the Stroope, is interesting. It is set to the tune of "Jupiter" in Holst's The Planets. You can hear the original performed here, or a high school chorus singing Stroope here. It does seem to be very much geared towards a high school group, fairly lacking in subtlety and also very patriotic.

Now, typically blunt patriotism turns me off. I like the way Ambrose Bierce described it in The Devil's Dictionary: "In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first." It's not that there's anything wrong with being proud of your country, and inspired to make it as good as possible. It's just that naked worship of country, as in "My country right or wrong" or "Why do you hate America?" rubs me the wrong way, just as all blind faith would.

But while rehearsing this piece, I've found myself getting choked up a few times. When I analyzed this feeling, I noticed I'm actually feeling more real patriotism than I have in a long time. I don't feel that the country is being run perfectly, but I think that policy is again being driven by people who care a bit about research and results more than ideology. Feels good.

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