Poetry and Song

My toast to Bobbie Burns
My toast to Bobbie Burns

One of my favorite nights of the year is Burns Night, hosted by my dear friends Dave and Maggie.* The hallmarks of Burns Night, in addition to the Haggis and Scotch, are poetry and song. On the best of the nights, we’ve taken turns – breathless – in the living room sharing words and music. We usually begin with actual songs and poems written by Robbie Burns. (“My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” often gets sung more than once.) We recite his poetry. (Cally’s rendition of “Ode to a Haggis” is breathtaking.) Dave reads “Address to the Deil”.

Somewhere around an hour in, one of us gives the Toast to Robbie Burns. I was on duty a few years ago and actually read a biography of the Bard of Scotland. Since then, I’ve been on duty in case there’s some failure of speaker to arrive.

Then we start slipping into the vaguely Celtic. Adam does his priceless rendition of “Maids When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man”. Maggie’s father lifts a mournful voice for “Kathleen Mavourneen”. There’s Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson – by heart or from the books that lay scattered at our feet.

We slide fully into just poetry, and just song. Nick recites Kite. We belt out “Barrett’s Privateers”. Cori’s liquid voice slides through “Jock o’ Hazeldeen”. The night ends swaying, holding hands, singing “Auld Lange Syne” (all verses) while looking into the eyes and hearts of these people to whom we have grown suddenly, unaccountably close through these greatest magic-makers: poetry and song. We have all fallen in love with each other in the silence after the singing. I leave with a joyful heart, and can’t wait for the next year.

But I’ve never done it at one of my parties, for all my love and passion for it. Why not? I’ve wondered often.

During Christmas and Easter, I often stand at the front of the church as I play my trumpet. It’s a day a lot of visitors come, of course, and I can watch them as they worship with us. There’s a particular kind of visitor I haven’t quite come to understand yet. The stand with the congregation during the hymns. They often even hold the hymnal in their hands. But they remain stoically silent – jaws clenched and unmoving as the rest of us sing. I wonder: are they there against their wills? Do they think they “can’t sing”? (Do they think we can?!) Do they think that church is something you watch, instead of something you do?

Last year I toasted decked in my tam
Last year I toasted decked in my tam – thanks to Joe for the picture!

That is – I think – the heart of it. We have become a world of watchers. We don’t sound good enough. We aren’t skilled enough. We were told when we were little that we can’t carry a tune. Please, for heaven’s sake be quiet. We all hear the world’s best musicians and artists (remixed, studio supported) every day. How can our voice compete? It can’t. And so we shut up. And our neighbor/friend/partner/kid is also not nearly as good as what’s on the radio, so we make fun of them. We have an entire tv genre built around making fun of people for thinking they can sing. In truth, the moment Adam and I first met was over our shared defiance of this cultural norm. He was walking down the hall of our dorm singing “Money Can’t Buy Me Love”. Instead of giving him the “you’re weird” look, I picked up the chorus. (Prescient, eh?)

I love to sing, even though my voice is decidedly mediocre. I love to hear my friends sing – even if they’ll never be Brandy Clark** I love to look in their sincere and vulnerable faces as they recite a poem they learned by heart when they were fourteen. I love Nick’s sock puppet hand, Callie’s slicing of the Haggis, Dave’s delightful “deil” and Cori’s key change on “Jock o’ Hazeldeen”. On those Sundays when I couldn’t find faith in my heart, I still came to church to sing the old old songs with my friends until faith could find its way back.

Where to go from here? I wish I could call on you all to sing – in public, with your friends. But even I’m too chicken (too wise? too often shot down? too defeated?) to call my friends to song. Perhaps instead I can remind you that the joy is not in the passive listening, it is in the listening to a friend. There is something about singing together which is powerful and precious. Sing to each other, my beloved companions. Quote poems. Sing to me. And together we can fill the world with a joyful noise.

Thane (top row) singing at his school’s winter concert

* New people at Burns Night sometimes ask how I know Dave or Maggie. My favorite reply is that I married him/her. It’s true. I did.
** I don’t remember ever hearing Brandy play guitar or sing in high school. I can’t remember if she was even in choir, and I’m pretty sure she never got a solo in our high school concerts.

Now what?

I’m pretty sure I have several posts lined up in my mental list. Sadly, now (45 minutes before bedtime) on Sunday night when I finally have time, I’ll be darned if I can remember any of them. Isn’t that always the way? Ah well.

Easter was lovely. The weather was superb. The kids were incredibly cute and well behaved. I was in some of my finest trumpet form in years, and played some of the hardest repertoire I’ve attempted in quite some time. We went out to dinner tonight at a local restaurant, and then wandered around our local town square in the warm twilight. There was tag, the scent of magnolias, holding sticky sweet little hands, and an evening ending in ice cream. It was a delight.

I’m figuring this is the last time Grey will believe in the bringers of gifts: Santa, Easter Bunny. He wrote the Easter Bunny a note, “How do bunnies go across water?” he asked in it. He asked me if the Easter Bunny was real. I asked him what he thought. He pondered, and said that maybe it wasn’t a bunny, but a person who sneaks into our house to leave the gifts. I don’t invest a tremendous amount of my personal credibility in these myths, nor do I have them well constructed. I’m pretty sure Grey is at the “trying hard not to notice” stage.

Grey has been really awesome lately. I’ve had a lot of fun with him. The other night he decided to make a chocolate cake. He got out a recipe and all the ingredients. He needed some help with some techniques (greasing the pan, measuring fractions), but he did a remarkable amount of it himself. I was really proud of him. So I decided any kid working with flour regularly needs their own apron.

It’s surprisingly hard to find an apron for boys, but I managed:

Awesome apron
Awesome apron

Don’t boys play chef anymore? Sheesh.

We also have had our last swimming lesson of the winter. Grey started them in fall, and ever single Saturday morning has been spent with swimming lessons, followed by lunch, followed by aikido. However, Grey is staring down his first ever graduation: preschool. In July he will go to summer camp instead of preschool. And part of the YMCA summer camp is swimming lessons! So although Grey is not yet 100% independent in water, I figure we might just be able to get our Saturday mornings back. That would rock. I think Thane may be sad, though. He really liked their babysitting. And he has to be potty trained in order to do swimming lessons which… well, we’re nowhere close to that.

This summer camp sounds awesome. They have weekly field trips, go to swimming lessons, go to the town pool on another day, and play play play. I’m totally jealous. I’m also totally ready for him to be starting Kindergarten in the fall. I think we’re all ready and excited.

Thane has a little less going on, being two and all. He’ll move to transitional preschool this summer (yes, the sound you’re hearing is the “kaching!” going off in my head as the boys move to less expensive forms of child care….) His language is totally exploding. He’s putting together complicated sentences with unusual verb forms and complex structures. “You would have done it, mommy.” He likes to mimic his brother, who is remarkably tolerant about it. He has a 24 piece dinosaur puzzle he puts together over and over again, with remarkable dexterity.

My sweet Thane is a natural singer. He sings ALL THE TIME. He sings nursery rhymes. He sings folk songs. He sings while he puts the puzzles together. He sings at night. He sings in the morning. He sings the doxology before dinner (which he will refuse to eat). He sings Ring Around the Rosy. He sings “Star of the County Down” and “These are My Mountains”. I love his singing.

Grey and Thane are the best brothers you could possibly expect them to be … which is to say, not perfect, but they have a lot of fun together.

Fort Fun!
Fort Fun!

So that’s what’s going on over here. Hopefully this week I’ll find some time to remember what I was going to write about and write about it… but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

PS – I do remember one bit. I was actually in California for two days this week. That’s really surprisingly disruptive.