Sunday, June 28, 2020


This song left me weeping, not because I’m patriotic or because I’m nostalgic for old drinking songs, but because it is so skillful, spontaneous, and surprising The story is on the vid, but the first time I saw this the male singer was totally unexpected.  In fact, when I found a close up on You Tube, it was not nearly so intense in effect.  It’s the idea of a stranger, an “other”, who appears from no where and a world apart, walking gracefully, wearing a fringe jacket, boots and jeans, and then singing counterpoint as though the two had practiced for a week — at that point something beautifully done becomes a story full of suspense. . . and then he turns and walks away quietly, with a wave.  The intensely focused white girl smiles.

Several times I’ve tried to write up a similar (sort of) incident in Portland.  In fact, I attended several classes at PSU in those years and sometimes dream about the buildings.  But this incident didn’t happen at PSU.  I was headed to a foreign film at the 33rd Ave theatre on Alberta where as a child I saw many movies, including “King Kong.”  I’ve forgotten what movie this was.  

In those days, the 70’s, movie houses were trying to survive by divving up the huge auditoriums into smaller units.  My movie was showing on what had been the stage, because not many viewers were expected.  I went in the proper door, but there were no clues about aisles and seats because there weren’t any.  The seating was on old furniture, mostly bulging and semi-collapsed.  I stood in total darkness waiting for my eyes to adjust or for a bright scene in the movie.  You know how those moody foreign noir films are — there were no sunlight scenes.

Then a hand reached out of the dark and pulled me down alongside him.  When I could finally see, it was a black man about my age, a cheerful well-spoken man who knew about this movie and its maker.  We sat there together, in sync, watching and quietly commenting now and then.  At the end we didn’t leave together and I never saw him again.  I don’t remember his face, only the feel of his strong dry hand on my arm.

These are encounters in the context of “high culture.”
 (French film. Opera.)   Both singers are highly skilled people in those fields and though not all viewers may know exactly what technicalities are involved, we all directly enjoy the result, the same as they seem to.  At first it seems spontaneous, but when we read the note that the woman

The bios of the two, Madisen Hallberg and Emanuel Henreid are printed on the screen in the version above.  It soon turned out that this shared moment electrified a lot of people.  The result of the two voices under the trees is soaring and seemingly effortless.  We’re told that Emanuel, who is a professionally very busy person, had been “passing” and asked to join Madisen.  But as a cynical suspicion, maybe there more to it than that, speaking with the mind of a theatre producer.  One has to consider the audience at all times.

A)  A dangerous chasm has developed between Black and white.

B)  Any time a man and woman sing together, the music is sexualized, but this is not sexual music.  Still, it’s arousing and so some people that’s the same thing.  So it would be misleading for the pair to go off together  For coffee?  More?  Likewise, if they had arrived together, arm-in-arm, it would suggest they were in relationship.

C)  But in the note it is said that Emmanuel did ask whether singing along would be okay and Madisen did agree to that.  Notice that she’s named for a founding father, though the spelling is different?  Well, he was named for an angel, right?  But they didn’t put the names up front.  People object to both categories.

D)  In real life the two singers may well have known each other.  Maybe Emmanuel had given lessons.  Maybe they were in the same production.  Maybe they just hung out with the same bunch of singers.  Professional people in sophisticated arts so not have to even consider color, unless they’re producing “Otello,” the Verdi opera, and don’t want to paint a white singer.  Come that, it would be lovely to hear these two sing.  Duet starts at 2.40.  There might be better duets for them.  I’m no expert.  Verdi’s just previous opera had been “Aida” but I don’t think he cast black singers.

This must have had to pass some kind of organizer of the graduation and this may have been an excellent pre-determined way to escape objections.  On the other hand I don’t have any difficulty believing that it really was just spontaneous and these two could fit their voices together expertly without any rehearsal.

As for my friend at the foreign film, he was a little old to be a college student, I think, though we didn’t exchange particulars.  In a way we were speaking filmeze and on that level all that matters is on the screen.  The point of many humanities is not about the people but about the subject at hand.  Many racists have no subject at hand except prejudice.  They’re obsessed with it and worry that a person of a different color might use the same brand of toothpaste which would reflect badly on them.

These incidents suggest that at the high end (thoughtful, educated) of any scale whether color, ethnic, professional, sexual, or by happenstance there can be a collaboration of considerable beauty.  I’m not excluding a continuum of jazz or any other folk skill.  Not would I insist that only a black man could use jazz and only Italians could sing opera.  It’s often glorious and absorbing no matter who does what.

But it's a bit ironic that our national anthem should be the subject here, eh?  Since the country is feeling so much slip away.

No comments: