Monday, June 21, 2010

Solstice 2010: Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Today is the longest day of the year. People have looked for cosmic connections to this distinctive day for ages.

Here is one I stumbled into:

Yesterday was the season finale of Treme, the exquisite HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans from David Simon. It was a quiet series, a brilliant snapshot of a time and place that made the 3-month post-Katrina lives of Nola residents “real” to the broader country. That’s what art does. It takes the facts of ordinary life and transcends them to something that others can understand in their hearts and souls. It was not elaborate, in the same sense as the masterful Wire, which dampened some people’s appreciation of it. But Simon, and Eric Overmeyer, and the late David Mills captured the struggles of a handful of residents with an art that did the city proud. And the music--using cameos from numerous working Nola musicians as well as the big name all-stars-—set the series apart from all other tv series and made it uniquely joyful to watch. It’s not often we get to see real musicians on prime-time television, a sad commentary on the state of the medium.

(On a side note: yesterday was Father’s Day, and one of the arcs on the series was hotshot NY trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux coming to respect the traditions of his father, Big Chief Lambreaux.)

Back to the Solstice in New York:

Gotham has taken on various solstice rituals in the last 10 tens. One is yoga in Times Square. Another, started four years ago, is Make Music New York, when “hundreds of public spaces throughout the five boroughs — sidewalks, parks, community gardens, and more — become impromptu stages for over 1,000 free concerts. Musicians of all ages, creeds, and musical persuasions perform for new audiences, who come out from under their headphones to hear unfamiliar groups risk-free on the first day of summer.” (Nice photos of the day from Alex Ross.)

One feature of Make Music was none other than a Second Line, in three different places.

“A New Orleans-style "second line" jazz parade, featuring musicians from the Jazz Gallery, Jazzmobile, and other leading institutions, will wind its way through three Manhattan neighborhoods for this year's Make Music New York, joined by community members who have learned the traditional Second Line dance steps.”

I caught the Second Line coming down Broadway to Lincoln Center. It was spirited, though a pale shadow of the pros in Treme. But just the fact that NY wanted to try to share in the tradition of Nola made it a strange, poignant extension of the tv show.

Another come-to-life moment was running into one of the Play Me I'm Yours pianos, an artwork by British artist Luke Jerram who has been touring the project globally since 2008. He has placed 6o pianos throughout the 5 boroughs, open for anyone to sit down and start playing. I ran into someone playing the solstice-appropriate “I’m beginning to see the light” at Lincoln Center. I was an audience of one for her solo performance. She was a talented player, shades of Annie and Sonny. Again a cosmic connection between Gotham on the first day of summer and Treme.

The Solo Human Voice

Another gift from the Treme seasonal finale was Lois Dejean singing “Just a closer walk with Thee” a cappella at Daymo’s funeral.

Her performance was so soulful, so inspiring that I found myself humming it this morning in the elevator.

If you click no other link this year, you must click on the video to hear her singing it in a master class, to experience the power of one human voice to invoke everything about life and death. Look at Melvin her accompanist, grinning ear to ear to be making music with such a pro.

The days start getting shorter starting at midnight tonight. That’s all right. The music will always be our guide to the light.

(Revised 6/22 to correct that the solstice is not the equinox!)


Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Peel: I've never posted a comment before -- I hope I'm doing this right -- and I really enjoy your blog: it's one of the few I've found worth RSS, but your understanding of the word "solstice" and mine are quite different. Regarding your first paragraph: the points of the year at which day and night share the diurnal period equally are called equinoxes, literally "equal night." A solstice is the point at which the sun is at one of the extremes of the ecliptic, either north or south. At the moment, days dominate over nights to the statutory limit, for dwellers in the northern hemisphere. Regarding your last paragraph: yes, days will shorten from now on (again, with northern prejudice), which doesn't really comport with your first paragraph, but how is it possible for days to shorten "starting at midnight"? And midnight where exactly? The actual moment of the solstice was 11:28 UTC.

M.A.Peel said...

Dear Anon, I'm so grateful that you did leave your comment.

Good grief, I described the equinox in my first sentence! (Now fixed.) To make matters worse, I remember that as I was writing it, the idea 'vernal equinox' was humming in my head, but it didn't stop my fingers from creating all the wrong words.

Part of the joy of blogging is not having an editor. Then again, we self publish at our own risk...

The "lengthening starting at midnight" is a little poetic license not meant to be so geo-specific.

Again, many thanks for leaving your first comment here. M.A.