Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Continuing Spiritual "Home"

Next month I will arrive at the first anniversary of my relocating from Music City to the Queen City, Clarksville. (A few days afterward will mary one year since I was hired for my job at TSLA.) During this almost year-long stretch, I've failed to locate a C'ville church "home". And today I was reminded why the search has so far been fruitless. Today was Youth Sunday (and honor graduates day) at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) in East Nashville. So I made the long drive from the Queen City to Music City to attend Woship this morning. I'm so glad I made the effort to attend worship at a place I hadn't since the first Sunday of April! Even as I approached Eastwood driving my Saturn SL, I had a strong sence similar to "I'm coming home, approaching a place where I've experienced healing and unconditional love over and over!" And while the youth were leading us in worship in the sanctuary, over and over I was impressed that "THIS is still my spiritual 'home'!" What probably strengthened this sensation or impression is that I ventured to sing the Anthem with Eastwood's choir -- several members of whom expressed gladness at my presence. The song, "A Gaelic Grace", is based on a Celtic that bestows "deep peace" in various forms upon the recipient. The Bass vocal score had two parts, so I sang the "baritone". It wasn't an easy piece, but I felt that I did okay. And I sensed during and after the singing a "deep peace"! And then we observed the Lord's Supper, as we generally do (except on First Sundays when we observe in a different manner), taking the bread -- the Body -- in unison and then the cup -- the Blood -- in unison. Since I had recently read an on-line encyclopedia-style article about the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper) and how in Protestant circles, fellowship with Christ and with one another is an important theme of the ritual. And within just minutes the worship was concluded and we adjourned to the potluck fellowship meal upstairs in the Fellowship Hall. All of this was underscoring my deep love for and deep peace while among my sisters and brothers of Eastwood. Which brings me back to my dilemma. Do I keep seeking and seeking more diligently a church "home" in Clarksville? Or do I act on my strong impression that Eastwood is still my spiritual home and seek to attend there more frequently?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Again "Listen to the Music" in Music City

A couple years ago I reported on this blog about how a certain hit song from my youth -- a "blast from the past" -- played over the p.a. system of the store in which I was shopping, and how immediately I contemplated what a perfect them song it would be for Nashville a.k.a. Music City USA. Well, shall we say it's time for same song second verse? Saturday, 5 May -- ¡Feliz Cinco de May, mis amigos! -- I worked the opening shift at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. After leaving TSLA I visited the central library at Vanderbilt and did some work on-line there. In a tip of the hat to the holiday (which is celebrated much more in these United States than in Mexico, where it's NOT their independence day) I decided to have a light supper of Mexican food. And being short on cash it had to be something less expensive than Chuy's or San Antonio Taco Co. There is a Taco Bell on West End Ave. very near the Vandy campus, so I went in there. As I was eating my burrito, wouldn't you know? The store's p.a. system, which was carrying pop rock music, began to broadcast the Doobie Brothers singing "Listen to the Music"! At once I limbered up my vocal cords and sang along. And again I considered how "Listen to the Music" is a perfect theme song for this city!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"The War" comes home, second verse

Earlier I had written of how a book chronicling a historical foot soldier who fought at Spotsylvania Court-House, where my own great-grandpa was wounded while also fighting under Gen. Lee, had made "the War" (between the states) come home. Well, in a somewhat different fashion, this same conflict which tore our nation apart 150 years ago came home yet again this morning!

You see, dear reader, the Tennessee State Library & Archives where I work hosted a seminar this morning featuring authors Traci Nichols-Belt and Gordon Belt (wife and husband) and their recently-published book, "Onward Southern Soldiers". In the past couple days I skimmed the TSLA's copy, then I attended the seminar today before signing-in for work.

The book's sub-title is "Religion and The Army of Tennessee in the Civil War." It covers historiography about religion's impact in the antebellum and Civil War South; political and military leaders and "elite" clergy in how they nourished Southern religious thought; the role of army chaplains and the thinking of foot soldiers concerning religion and the War (as expressed in their letters home, memoirs, etc.).

Where the book and the seminar brought "the War" home for yours truly is three-fold. As with the earlier coming-home of the War Between the States, my great-grandpa's wounding at Spotsylvania (12 May 1864) was a major connection the topic - even tho' he was in Gen. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia rather than the Army of Tenn. Furthermore, I myself had served as an Army chaplain in the 1980s, a time of peace. I found it enthralling to read accounts of Rebel chappies on the battlefront, particularly those few who not only served the religious needs of the soldiers but also commanded units. Most notorious of these was Bishop and General Leonidas Polk (there's a fort named for him in Louisiana).

And of course forming the third personal connection were my passions for history and spiritual things. In commencing the seminar's talk, author Nichols-Belt confessed to these same two passions (and how they came together for her as she worked on her Master's thesis and this book). I ought to point out that "Onward Southern Soldiers" is made up of copious quoting from original documents -- diaries, letters, orders and so forth.

Gordon Belt briefly addressed the matter of sources for the book. And TSLA was a major fountain of archival items they used.

I had several comments or questions at the q & a point of the seminar. One was whether Herman Norton (whom they cited as a secondary source) is the Disciples of Christ historian with whom I'm acquainted -- he is. A more involved question related to fighting clergy such Polk. In my reading I had found it strange that clergy like him, supposedly representing the Prince of Peace, could so readily take up weapons to kill, or lead soldiers on the killing fields. How did they justify this glaring anomaly? The authors only touched on this issue as it pertained to the general rebel conviction that they were fighting to defend their homes and altars (and thus theirs was a just war). But I really would like to know, HOW did Polk et al., reconcile the two roles?

Upon the seminar's conclusion I shared a couple other questions or observations privately with Gordon Belt, and made arrangements to purchase a signed copy of the book "Onward Southern Soldiers".

And so, once again "the War" had come home for yours truly!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ah-h-h-h. . . the Memories!

Tuesday the 29th Steve and I were working the reception desk in the Tennessee State Library & Archives when a silver-haired couple entered the building. We ascertained that this was their first visit and began the process of registering them.

As they filled out the registry cards they chatted with Steve and me. And in the dialog the man commented that the two had entertained at Opryland Park.

As soon as he said that I recognized them despite the silver hair. I happily blurted out, "You're Russ and Becky Jeffers!"

The couple had performed for 24 years at the bluegrass stage in the park, with its cabin backdrop, in their "Country and Bluegrass Show". It turns out both Steve and I had been to this show numerous times. Indeed, Steve claimed more than once that he'd seen the show "150 times." To which assertion I finally commented, "And I'd seen it 151 times!" in a little light-hearted one-upmanship.

So, the four of us got to talking at length about the park, which all of us had loved so dearly. Steve admitted that he cried when they killed the park. And I, too, had cried. Becky remarked about on work days -- if performing a music one loves can be called "work" -- she'd let their kids have the run of the park. Opryland was THAT SAFE, secure and family-friendly of an environment! Becky was far from the first parent I'd heard speak of just turning their kids loose for a day there.

And I learned a bit of history. Russ told of how theirs was the very last show to be performed in the park before its murder. Since it was the Christmas season the show was slotted to be done in the New Orleans Theater. But Russ talked the crowd into adjourning to the country and bluegrass cabin for this finale. And the very last song to be sung in Opryland USA was "Rocky Top", the newest on the list of Tennessee's official State Songs. I suppose one could say that "Rocky Top" was thus the swan-song, then, on 31 December 1997.

Rest in peace, my dear Opryland Park! And God bless Russ and Becky Jeffers for patronizing the State Library and awaking fond memories for their fellow ex-employee! (I worked at Opryland in the 1990s, as ticket seller and then as tour coordinator of Grand Ole Opry Tours.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Connie Smith (& me) at "Midnite Jamboree"

There's no denying that yours truly is a morning lark. Going to bed after 10PM is not my m.o. Therefore, I've never been to the "Midnite Jamboree" at the Texas Troubadour Theater in Music Valley near the Grand Ole Opry House. Indeed, if I've even listened to the second-longest-running live radio show (after the Opry), it's been infrequent brief segments of it and never the entire broadcast.

Such all changed this past Saturday, 5 November. Thanks to Facebook I got an invitation or notice that Connie Smith would be featured artist. I already knew I'd be working the late shift at the State Library and that a women's Walk to Emmaus retreat would be going on. So I made a "big day" of the Fifth!

Upon leaving work I first secured a room at a cheap motel, then ate supper at an IHOP in Hermitage, east suburb of Nashville. Then I went to nearby Hermitage United Methodist Church, where Nashville-area Walks to Emmaus are held, to participate in the "Candlelight" activity of the walk. A couple of my Clarksville neighbors also attended. As always, the Emmaus "Candlelight" was a blessing.

After relaxing an hour or so in my borrowed vehicle I drove to Music Valley Drive and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop (#2) with the Texas Troubadour Theater. After briefly browsing the bins in the record shop I found me a seat in the seventh row of the little theater.

Connie Smith was marvelous! The show's format was rather original, I think. Connie would sing one of her songs, then introduce a recording by somebody else; after which a pretty, nicely dressed emcee type would come to a podium at stage right, describe the album the song came from and how there was a price special on it -- "just tonite!" -- in the E.T. Record Shop. And then the final third (my guess) of the show was all Connie!

"The Rolls Royce of Country Music", as WSM's Eddie Stubbs calls her, sang several songs off her new album Long Line of Heartaches. It's her first recorded work in some 13 years (and before that was a 20-year gap), and some of the featured songs were co-written by Connie and her husband Marty Stuart. After hearing her sing a couple of these, I concluded that Connie Smith doesn't get sufficient credit as songwriter! And Nashville IS a songwriter's town.

One of the songs she sang off the new album was a Johnny Russell creation, "Ain't You Even Gonna Cry". I'd heard Russell sing it live, and I believe I've heard one or two other Country stars sing it. However, Connie sang it as tho' it were made just for her! I don't remember that she sang the title song, but I do recall "Anymore" and "I'm Not Blue" as I scan the songlist for the album.

Connie concluded the show, which ran a bit over an hour and a half, with her signature song, "Once a Day", then "Amazing Grace" and finally another Gospel song. Some people criticize Country Music stars who live a less-than-perfect life, record cheatin' and drinkin' songs and then turn around and record a Gospel album. They cannot so criticize Connie! She makes no bones about her Christian faith and she exudes the spirit of a devoted disciple of the Nazarene. This is one of the things that endears her to me, among female Country singers.

And experiencing her live and in person at the "Midnite Jamboree" is adding to the endearment!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Books, Books, & More Books!

Yes, I work in a library, specifically, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) in Nashville. So, yes, there are plenty of books in my work environment. But I'm actually posting about somewhat less job-related tomes and library issues.

First, on Thursday, 13 October, the Friends of the TSLA, a fairly new organization, held their board meeting in the TSLA building, followed by a reception with talk. This reception impacted my work, but in a positive way, as in greeting the Friends with an even warmer smile than usual when they entered, and at closing (4:30pm) inviting patrons to linger for the talk (alas! none did).

Refreshments for the reception consisted of elitist cookies and a tasty orange juiced-based punch. The talk, by author John Egerton, was "Sleuthing in the Archives". He gave a fascinating account of a murder in Knoxville almost a hundred years ago, and how a Black man was accused, convicted and executed -- and then a woman came forward eight years later confessing the heinous deed! His sleuthing was to discover what had happened to the woman after she was let go due to "case closed".

Friday was the beginning of the yearly Southern Festival of Books here in nearby Legislative Plaza, War Memorial and the State Capitol. Jenny, one of the admin staff for TSLA, went over to it on her lunch break and returned with a copy of the information magazine for me. Later I took my break and went up to the break room, where I found staffer Jay eating and reading. Jenny came in shortly afterward, and I told her I really liked her tee. It read,"There's no such thing as... too many books". Jay, Jenny and I had a great discussion about books, the festival, and the impact of the electronic media on printed books. Jay and I both much prefer to read a published book, of which we open the cover and turn the pages while curled up in a comfy chair!

On Saturday I used my lunch break to wander over to Legislative Plaza myself and enjoy some of the music and the various exhibit booths (TSLA had a booth, mainly for info). I went over fully intending to purchase a book or two. But the alacrity with which the acquisition happened all but took my breath away! Less than two minutes into my browsing the booths I arrived at that of the Vanderbilt University Press. There among the books for sale was Singing in the Saddle: the history of the singing cowboy by Douglas B. Green, aka Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky (Grand Ole Opry members). Having read and enjoyed the book, which I checked out in 2008 or '09 from the Nashville Public Library just a block from the Plaza, I whipped out my wallet in a heartbeat!

Later I also purchased a Festival book bag and a Festival glass. I also hobnobbed with folks manning the TSLA and TWA (TN Writers Assoc.) booths and listened to "The Ukedelics", a local music group which includes Andy Hudson, member of Eastwood Church. (The Hudsons, however, were in Florida.)

Of course there was music in addition to the books and authors at the Festival. After all, Nashville in addition to being the Athens of the South is Music City USA!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bluegrass Bonanza in Music City

October is a major month on the musical calendar of Nashville, in which is celebrated the anniversary of radio station WSM-AM 650 and the "birthday" of the Grand Ole Opry show. (the show was first broadcast, according to founder George Hay's memoirs, in late November of 1925, but since the station (which first hit the airwaves early in October of that year) and the show are inextricably joined together it hardly hurts to have the festivities together.

Well, during the final week of September leading into the special month, Music City hosted the annual convention of the International Bluegrass Music Association -- the IBMA. Nashville is the birthplace of Bluegrass Music, specifically in the Ryman Auditorium in the 1940s when Opry member Bill Monroe created the genre, using his band The Bluegrass Boys. And the Father of Bluegrass Music was born in September a century ago in Rosine, Kentucky. Therefore, naturally plenty of observance and celebration of his centennial took place at this year's IBMA.

One of these observances was a free concert Tuesday afternoon under the blue sky outside the Ryman, hosted by the Del McCoury Band. On my way from work to a medical appointment I stopped by for a few minutes of listening pleasure.

The next evening, Wednesday, 30 September, featured a Monroe centennial bluegrass concert, not at the Ryman but in Ingram Hall of the music school at Vanderbilt University. Dieta, wife of fiddler extraordinaire Stuart Duncan, arranged for admission for me, bless her! I was not about to miss it just because it meant a 50-mile trip either way!

And I'm thankful I didn't miss it; it was a dynamic and dynamite performance! I appreciated the format, with WSM's Bill Cody serving as emcee; for about the first half hour Del McCoury Band was on-stage, then Nashville Bluegrass Band (Stuart is NBB's fiddler) took over for the remainder of the concert, and both bands were joined by various other Bluegrass stars in varying configurations. These others included Dale Ann Bradley, Ricky Skaggs, Claire Lynch, Roland White and Matt Combs, who's a fiddle teacher in VU's Blair Sch. of Music.

Stuart and Matt did twin fiddles more than once, and had a fine "chemistry" playing off each other. And then there was the finale, when all the artists took the stage (except Del McCoury and his group who had to leave early for another engagement) and did all the verses of "Working on a Building" and closed with what Bill Cody said was Monroe's signature song or best-known song, the instrumental "Rawhide".

What an evening! What a Bluegrass bonanaza!

The next evening, Thursday, 29 September, WSM broadcast the IBMA Awards Show from the Ryman over the airwaves. I'd have loved to be in the building for it, but the listening in on the radio was pleasure enough. More than once the Monroe centennial was commented on, and the musical performances between presentation of awards were all superb. Stuart was nominated for "Fiddler of the Year" but the award went to someone else. Dale Ann won "Female Vocalist", but I'd have been happy with any of the five nominees, all very talented and endearing women.

And so, for A.D. 2011 Bluegrass Music had their annual party and celebrated Bill Monroe's birth centennial, in the place where Bluegrass began: Music City USA.