Thursday, July 05, 2007

4th of July at the Gathering

July 4, 11:15 pm, in the tent.

Let’s see far how much I can report before I drop.

Tuesday was the first day of rain in these parts in several weeks. It came around three o’clock in the afternoon, a little before the afternoon Sacred Harp singing was to take place, outdoors, under a large overhang of a building. It was dark, and though it wasn’t raining particularly hard, it looked threatening. We sang only one or two songs when a siren went on. We all assumed that that meant a tornado warning – meaning one had been sited – and everyone dutifully went indoors, except for Robin, Jerry and me who like watching storms and are probably irresponsible. It didn’t seem to us that it was likely that anything was going to happen immediately, so we stayed outside and sang tenor-treble-bass trios for a few minutes. The rest of the group, went to an interior bathroom as instructed, and started singing there, wowed by the resonance.

It turned out the siren was merely a severe weather alert, not a tornado warning, and the rain and storm passed within 15 or 20 minutes, and we resumed singing. The group was a bit smaller – maybe 25 average at any one time – but it was plenty strong. We are still having trouble getting everything out of the altos that we need -- they're all singing the right notes, in tune, but they're holding back. (The morning class did better after Carol gave them the "alto talk".)


Tuesday evening has interest groups, which are two hour sessions on a wide variety of topics. I hadn’t taken time to carefully read the impressively long list in advance, so when I did, I of course was drawn to more than one, but I eventually chose to go to one because (in part) I knew where the room was. The announced topic was “Intrafaith work among the various branches of Quakerism.” It was led by Andrew Esser-Haines and Erin McDougall, two young Friends currently studying at Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion, respectively. They are visiting yearly meetings and conferences of Quakers in various branches to hold similar conversations. Each comes from a FGC background but have gained appreciation for the other branches and their Quaker bona fides in recent years.

I was fascinated by them and their plans and wished they had said a lot more. Instead, they had us do various exercises on the topic. There were only about fifteen who attended, and it seemed that nearly half of them were there in a support role for Andres and Erin. The remaining adults, with the exception of a young mother and her baby, were my age (53) or older, I think. Some were members of yearly or monthly meetings that are affiliated with Friends United Meeting or one of its constituent yearly meetings, and they have a vital interest in fostering better communication with FUM Friends.

While I would have loved to hear more about what they are planning to do this summer, I didn’t feel that I connected very well in my small group and left a little disappointed. But I did learn one great conversation ice-breaker: Name three dead Quakers you’d like to invite dinner, and why. (My answer: Bayard Rustin, Lewis Benson, and Margaret Fell. I didn’t have much of a “why” to it.)


We had our Wednesday morning rebellion in the workshop, but it was of the good kind. Carol had gone a little past the 10 o’clock break time and was in the middle of teaching a song, Parting Friends (#267) when she noticed it. She finished teaching each of the four parts, and then announced the break without singing the words. Ixnay on the ake-bray, said the class, emphatically. They wanted to finish the lesson and sing the song, which they did beautifully. (Carol taught the song using the Dorian mode, with the raised sixth step in the minor scale, and did it beautifully. I’d never sung it in that mode before – or never heard it if we did, since only the tenor part has the raised sixth.)

Tomorrow we’ll hold a memorial lesson for our worship sharing. Among others, we will remember the step-mother of one of our participants who died earlier today. He has left the Gathering and won't be with us.

The evening plenary this year was a performance prepared and produced by children and adults in the Junior Gathering with the assistance of two artists from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. On Wednesday night, the Gathering has an intergenerational event, usually professional performing artist perform, people like John McCutcheon, Si Kahn, Pete Seeger, Troutfishing in America, Robin and Linda Williams, etc. This year, though, we decided that there was enough talent within the Gathering community that we could produce, rather than merely consume, an entertaining and educational intergenerational event. So we asked HOTB to do a residency with the Junior Gathering, mainly 5-6 graders with some assistance with 7-8 graders, and adult volunteers.

Starting on Sunday, the HOBT artists helped the children develop a play, design and paint props and cardboard puppet characters. The story they came up with was a visit to a town on the Mississippi River by an unusual woman. The river fell in love with her, and though she was unusual, the elder of the town counseled treating her with respect, but the other townspeople didn’t agree, and eventually drove her from town. But the children intervened and brought her back. Or something like that – I was part of the shape note singing group that provided incidental music for it and couldn’t see the whole thing. But it had all of the elements of a HOBT production: an assortment of colorful fish, animals, and insects, the sun (played brilliantly by my friend Jeanne), and a river. The children seemed happy and delighted and were delightful. The audience also seemed to love it and were amazed at how much could be done in such a short period of time. Liz Opp predicted this might be the sleeper event of the Gathering, and she may be right.

Afterwards, I had a good conservation with Chris M and his friend John Harting about membership in a Quaker meeting. It was more interesting and complex and subtle than I can relate here, but I wanted to note it because I haven’t had very many such conversations here, mainly because of the various work I have to do. I enjoyed this one very much.

I enjoyed eating dinner with some of the Quaker bloggers who are here. It was especially nice that some non-bloggers were there who wanted to learn more about blogs and blogging. But it was hard for me to have a very satisfying conversation around a big table in a noisy dining room.

I finally got to go contra dancing tonight. I only stayed for two dances because I needed a shower before the locker room closed, but I got to dance with the one woman who is not Lovely Wife who I always try to make a point of dancing with. She is an old friend who I met years ago at Illinois Yearly Meeting and with whom I have special affection. Her daughter is one of the six (!) who are having a sleepover in the big tent next to mine with Younger Daughter in honor of he 4th of July.

July 5
I got a nice, long e-mail from Lovely Wife this morning from Brussels. It was wonderful to hear from her and to think of her in this lovely old city. Hi, sweetie!


Suzy said...

The downside of this lovely performance (and I did love it; my daughter was a charming mosquito) was that in pulling it together so quickly, some of the Junior Gathering leaders got too focused on the product and were not mindful of the fact that the core group they were working with were kids 10-12 years old. I listened to a very unhappy child at Wednesday's lunch.

Paul L said...

Yes, Jr Gathering staff & HOBT knew that the foreshortened preparation time was a challenge from the start. I know that the Jr Gathering staff & group discussed this at length on Thursday because they, too, were aware that some of the kids felt too manipulated by the limited prep time. That's too bad if it colored an otherwise beautiful event.