Friday, March 19, 2021 3:56 AM
Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring”
is a perfect example of the human desire to suspend time (and suffering) long enough to enjoy a piece of joyful music, such as “Simple Gifts”, with ‘advantages’. Copeland composes variations, he ‘plays’ with this beautiful tune, —basically, he ‘daydreams’ in the ‘key’ of that song.
Judy Collins did the same, on a much smaller scale, when she recorded that classic Shaker hymn as part of her Album “Whales & Nightingales”:
“’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”
Ms. Collins sings it virtually a cappella, because it is the lyric, far more than the musical ditty, that gives this hymn such power. Copeland’s arrangements reach for that lyric grandeur, within the music—and that, as far as I care, is what makes Copeland a great American Composer.
To me, this hymn has always stood out for two reasons: one—it extols the virtues of simplicity—and two—it never mentions the ‘Supreme Being’. This is a song to Humans, telling them to keep life simple and to eschew grandiosity and authority, per se, which is as Democratic a spiritual sentiment as America has ever brought forth.
We must look clear-eyed at this uniqueness. Many hymns exert the pressure of being watched by the Lord, and the need to Obey, without question. I think we can all agree, here in the 21st Century, that such BS is propaganda, meant to bolster the egoist authoritarianism of insecure, cowardly males throughout history.
True spirituality has never sought authority. Jesus, nor Buddha, ever said, “or else…” We must use this understanding of true spirituality—to slap in the face every jackass who tries to subvert Faith into child-abuse or monetary-gain, much less a rationale for ‘I said so.’.
All that being said, I wish to further point out that THC, marijuana, pot, hash, etc. have been demonized most harshly for one reason: When someone smokes a joint and then faces an ‘authority figure’, they are commonly overcome with laughter at the hilarity of the situation. They see the source of their daily fear—and recognize it as nothing more than a silly person—as silly as they are, but with ‘authority’. This makes anyone laugh, especially after some months of browbeating by said silly person.
Even now, if anyone advocates Legalization, serious people get scared. Authoritarianism is fragile—the least little titter of ridicule can break the whole system.
You watch TV, all you see is a bunch of stoned folks trying to maintain a sense of seriousness and decency—not because it’s true, not because they believe in it—no, no—just because they get Fired for breaking the illusion (and they shelve any errant film, forever, so, no point, really).
You listen closely to Aaron Copeland. You can hear the human desire to ‘step out of time and live in the music’. You can hear it in Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ (used in Platoon (1986)).
You can see it in Van Gogh’s ‘Wheatfield with Crows’,
or Matisse’s ‘Water Lilies’.
You can even observe it in other mammals, which annually congregate at trees whose fallen fruit has fermented sufficiently to give these little monkeys a cheap high. They fall off branches, become emotional, and generally enjoy a break from life—then pass out. We humans desire no less.
The history of mankind, being authoritarian-oriented, has never really celebrated intoxication as the necessary vacation we all know it to be. But if we’re going to bother counting the Centuries of our Civilization, shouldn’t there be some progress to show? Twenty-One Centuries of trying to be decent people—still no luck, of course, but that’s hardly the point—we should by now have at least recognized the human persona as being complex enough to include intoxication, both as a release from stress, and as a social lubricant, —as a healthy part of a natural lifestyle.
Shout ‘addiction’, shout ‘temperance’, shout ‘self-control’—you’ll never get through to an honest adult human facing the stresses of being alive in this era. Sophistication about the human psyche is the only route to publicly healthy interactions between people who are ‘not the same’. Simple.