Happy New Year! WordPress informs me that this is my 500th post on Musical Me – a milestone, which, when coupled with the New Year, has me thinking big. As I reminisce about 2016, I can’t help but conclude that it was indeed a pretty big year for me personally. I completed my first year as an Executive Director and I earned my third-degree black belt in Seido Karate. We took a sweet vacation to New York to celebrate the wedding of dear friends, and bought and moved into a great new place we love. Michael and I capped it off by getting married ourselves down at the courthouse on Friday – nearly 19 years into our relationship and on the verge of an unknown future at the Supreme Court, we felt the time had come!
But it’s been such a difficult time for Chicago, for Illinois, and for the country. Over 750 murders occurred in our city in 2016 – the highest number since the mid 1990s. We also have no state budget, a deadlocked legislature, a nearly bankrupt public school system, and a citizenry that is in a state of general malaise. That general malaise extends to so much of our country, in fact, that a man will take the presidency this month who wants to “make America great again.”
Those polled who supported Trump believe that the 1950s was that time of greatness. The truth is poverty rates have plunged since that era. We have greatly reduced instances of child abuse. Women and gays are full participants in our national life. People of color have advanced beyond measure. Consider our lifespans, modern medicine and worldwide levels of educational attainment. Despite the Chicago murders, global rates of violence have decreased. There is no empirical measure by which the 1950s were better for anyone – especially not for the wealthy, for whom rates of taxation have come down tremendously since!
Humans tend to look with remorse on the passing of time. It’s part of our condition as a species – we only get one shot at this life, and as the years speed by and pile up in the rearview mirror it’s only natural to want some of them back. It also seems we are wont to forget about past darkness under the star struck influence of nostalgia.
I’ve just started a song on the violin that’s a bit of a case in point – Ashokan Farewell, by Jay Ungar. The song was popularized by its inclusion as the theme for the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War. The song recently came back into my consciousness as I was talking about violin music with my family over Christmas. My niece, who dabbles at the instrument, mentioned loving the tune, and that she picked it out by ear on her own violin. I had personally never known the title before discussing it with my family, though like many people I’ve known the music since watching the acclaimed series in the early 1990s.
While poking around online, I discovered that many people maintain a nearly religious, reverential devotion to the song. Many also incorrectly believe it to be a period composition – ironic considering the rest of the music from the Burns documentary project really did come from the mid nineteenth century. But Ashokan Farewell was actually written by Ungar in 1982 to commemorate the end of a summer music camp for kids that he ran with his wife in upstate New York. Ashokan is the name of a town that means “a good place to fish.” The composer calls the song “a Scottish lament written by a Jewish guy from the Bronx.”
Perspective is everything; we make of our life and times what we want to make of our life and times. In 2017 I hope to find plenty to laugh about and a little to cry about. I hope to learn a lot, and I hope that I get boatloads of practice time in on the violin. I hope to grow in my martial art, and in my vocation. I hope to spend lots of quality time with people I love. I hope that by the end of the year humanity will be a little better off. And, for the sake of those aging music campers from 1982 and in a nod to Jay Ungar and nostalgia’s sway over us all, I hope that I can do some justice to Ashokan Farewell.
Thanks for reading.