I'm not sure if I consider myself a patriot or not. I am certainly not patriotic in the traditional flag-waving with-us-or-against-us sense. But I do love my country, and I am deeply committed to doing my part to make the U.S. of A. a better place to live for me and my children and generations of the future. A few years ago, I decided to do away with the cynicism and negativism many of us lefty liberals feel so keenly on Independence Day and just enjoy the holiday. Yes, I'm still opinionated, very much so, about politics and policy regarding just about everything...but I do love grilling, parades, fireworks, and my husband getting a day off of work. It doesn't hurt to find an excuse to celebrate, especially these days when there is so much cause to worry.
I also love how so many communities, large and small, put on fireworks displays for public viewing. It's unfortunate for those who don't enjoy the bangs and booms, of course, but for the rest of us, it's fun. There's something so festive about dozens or hundreds or thousands of people walking in the muggy, summer evening, spreading out blankets and eating snacks like chips and hot dogs, swatting at mosquitoes with their children in their laps (or cans of beer in their hands...or both, as often happens) and waiting for nightfall, when bright explosions light up the sky to collective oohs and aahs.
I took Daniel to see the fireworks at Elver Park last night. It was really and truly a last-minute decision. I had thought all the neighborhood fireworks displays would be on July 4 (Rhythm and Booms is always the Saturday before the 4th, and it's really, really cool, but it's just too big an event for me to contend with the traffic and crowds, at least while he's this young yet), but it's likely to be storming on Sunday, so when I discovered one happening on Friday the 2nd, which was a beautiful clear day, I decided to go. Knowing how crowded Elver was likely to be, and knowing how awful the parking was guaranteed to be, at 6 in the evening I called a friend of mine who lives within spitting distance of the park and asked if I could park in her driveway. Being the kind, generous person she is, she said yes and then invited us to stay and sit in her front yard, and while she was at it she gave us cupcakes and milk and the use of her bathroom (so much nicer than the port-a-johns, you know). It was just lovely. I think I owe her a jar of freezer jam. We curled up on a blanket, Daniel and I, and he fell asleep leaning on my lap just before the grand finale when the whole sky lit up with lights and drifting smoke.
(Getting out of that neighborhood to get home was another story. It took 3 tries and 20 minutes, but we made it, and Daniel was snoozing in the back seat the whole time.)
I think I'll end this post with a quick list of some of my favorite pieces of American music. Not to get all esoteric on you, or anything, though I suppose a lot of musicians reading this will immediately recognize most of these.
1. Aaron Copland's rendition of Simple Gifts. Here's a youtube clip of the arrangement played at Obama's inauguration, which got me all choked up just now when I watched it.
2. Aaron Copland: Hoedown from the Rodeo Suite. You know, the music from that stupid "Where's the Beef?" commercial. It's been overused, but I still like it. Such an invigorating bit of music.
3. Lee Hoiby: From Iraq: Last Letter Home from Pfc. Jesse Givens. This piece is the saddest thing I have ever heard. Go watch the video (scroll down to the bottom); it will break your heart. It's a setting of a letter a soldier wrote home to his wife before he drowned in the Euphrates River, a casualty of the Iraq War. I had the great honor of sitting next to Lee Hoiby himself as he accompanied Andrew Garland, the amazing baritone who premiered the piece, in concert. I was turning pages. The concert was in celebration of Hoiby's 80th birthday. He played the piano so beautifully, and during this piece, he wept and wept (and didn't miss a note). I had a hard time keeping myself together, but I had to because I was sitting on stage. The next time I heard it was with a different pianist, but the same singer, and I just sat in the audience and sobbed and sobbed. As did everyone else. It's that powerful.
4. Samuel Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915. I particularly like Dawn Upshaw's recording. I see on wikipedia that she won a grammy for that in 1989.
5. George Crumb: Apparition, for soprano and piano. I know this doesn't scream Americana! like the rest of the pieces on this list, but this is a wonderful piece. It's all settings of poems Walt Whitman wrote after Lincoln's assassination (which devastated Whitman), so I think it's appropriate.
6. Paul Simon: Graceland, and I mean the whole album. Daniel found it the other day and put it on at about 6:30 in the morning demanding a dance party. It sounds obnoxious, but it was just what we needed to wake up and get ready for the day. Funny that I should think of this as an American album since it was supposedly so ground-breaking in bringing world music into pop culture, but whatever. It's a classic, and I never tire of it. I particularly like Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.
7. John Williams: The Star Wars theme. I don't like the movies much, but the music is fun. I always thought it would be a better choice for graduation ceremonies than Pomp and Circumstance, too. Don't you agree?
Well, there you have it - my list of random favorites on a Saturday night. I'll probably think of a dozen more tomorrow. What about you? Do you have 4th of July favorites? Great American music you'd like to share?