Remember The Past; Do Not Honor Its Errors

The current impassioned debate about the need to remove monuments to the Confederacy and its leadership has rekindled my long personal struggle with the subject. When I was young, we lived in Montgomery, Alabama, which in the early 1960s was at the very forefront of an outdated and oppressive culture of racism. We subsequently moved to Northern Virginia, rather more up-to-date than Alabama, perhaps, yet fiercely proud of its Confederate past. And I have lived in or near Dallas, Texas for nearly twenty-seven years. In my early years, therefore, I regularly passed by Confederate memorials such as the Robert E. Lee house in Alexandria, and a statue honoring Confederate soldiers nearby. Even today, I often attend events and gatherings at Dallas’ Lee Park, honoring General Robert E. Lee. I have had friends who taught at Dallas’ Jefferson Davis Elementary School. Such familiarity has fostered in me an acceptance of such things, despite knowing that it must be difficult for a black student to attend a school honoring the president of the Confederacy. I felt that undoing such legacies from the past might hide an important part of our common history. But I have been reconsidering.

I do honestly think these monuments and memorials helped me develop an appreciation for the nearness of the past, and instilled in me a sense of history. And for quite a while, the idea of taking them down was unappealing to me. So I have wrestled with this question mightily. One the one hand, I do think that the very existence of Confederate monuments represents something utterly unique in our history – how many losing rebellions throughout history were ever permitted to honor their failed “heroes?” The fact that these monuments were permitted possibly speaks volumes about American tolerance.

On the other hand, the Confederacy was ultimately about preserving and promoting a system of exploitation and human misery that ensured that an entire race was oppressed, disenfranchised, and denied the right to be full Americans. Slavery – The United States of America’s “original sin” – bore a legacy that still tears at this nation today. Honoring that legacy is incomprehensible.

Too, it is important to note that many of these Confederate monuments did not arise in the near aftermath of the failed rebellion; they typically date from the early 20th Century, long after the Civil War. Dallas’ Oak Lawn Park was rechristened Lee Park upon the dedication of a statue in 1935, 70 years after the Civil War, at a time when Americans were embracing a romantic, idealized, and fictitious image of The Old South. They were inspired by a misguided nostalgia for the “noble” South that never really was. And, quite importantly, as these monuments usually date from the time when the Ku Klux Klan was at its apogee, it is probable – almost inevitable – that they genuinely do represent a racist reminder that despite the defeat of the Confederacy, its heirs intended to maintain the status quo of oppression and exclusion of Blacks from mainstream America.

Battlefield parks, historic forts, preserved sites of significance (such as plantations that include slaves’ quarters and aspects of their lives) are appropriate ways to keep history present and tangible. Memorials to the fallen of both armies at battlefield sites such as Gettysburg remain appropriate and fitting, much as if in a cemetery. But civic statues and monuments are neither necessary nor educational even when they claim to represent “history.” For one, Confederate soldiers were in rebellion to the lawful government of the United States of America. For all that ‘rebellions are lawful when they succeed,’ this one failed, and honoring its proponents is simply improper. For another point, remember that the majority of these memorials date to a full two generations after the Civil War, and do indeed reflect a reprehensible reminder that, despite the Confederacy’s defeat, its aim of racial oppression was in full force.

It is time to move beyond they early 20th Century mythos of The South and embrace an America that truly is more free and equal, but which has much work remaining toward genuinely achieving those goals. Undoing reminders and symbols of an oppressive past is not erasing history; it will be embracing our 21st Century America.

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The Greatest Shipwreck That Few Recall: SS Eastland

In the second largest city in America, a passenger steamship, tied to the dock, loaded with 2,500 working people dressed in their picnic clothes, topples slowly and sinks to the river bottom like a dead jungle monster shot through the heart. Over 1,000 men, women and children, trapped like rats in a cellar, are drowned. — Carl Sandburg, 1915

One of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history happened on 24 July 1915, causing the loss of more than eight hundred lives. Yet this tragedy is little known today.

Between Monday 15 April 1912 and Friday 7 May 1915, three enormous maritime disasters rocked and stunned the world. The two of these bracketing the trio are quite well known, being the subjects of many works of history and fiction in books, plays, and movies: RMS Titanic and RMS Lusitania. The middle one of the trio, RMS Empress of Ireland which sank after being rammed on 29 May 1914, is nowhere near as famous these days as its bookends, but it was every bit as shocking and stunning a disaster. Each of these catastrophes caused the loss of more than a thousand lives; each was probably avoidable. In the aftermath of the wreck of Titanic, new regulations were quickly put into place to ensure adequate life boats, but the speed with which Empress and Lusitania sank precluded any effective deployment of life saving equipment.

It is profoundly and tragically ironic that the loss of S.S. Eastland in July of 1915, less than two months after the sinking of Lusitania, may have been precipitated by the vessel’s compliance with the requirement for more lifeboats. Eastland was a Great Lakes steamer as large as an ocean liner. Launched in 1903, Eastland early on revealed a tendency to list excessively because of a somewhat top-heavy design. To help avoid this characteristic, the ship adopted rules regarding how many passengers she could board, and how many could be on the upper decks at any given time. These measures permitted the ship to ply the lakes for a dozen years without major incident. However, after the new regulations of lifeboats following the loss of Titanic, Eastland’s tendency to list returned quite noticeably. The extra life-saving equipment made the upper decks even more top-heavy.

On 24 July, Eastland had been chartered by Western Electric Company to ferry employees to a company picnic in Indiana. The ship was docked on the south bank of the Chicago River between LaSalle and Clark Streets. The employees began boarding the vessel about 6:30 AM; within forty minutes the ship was at full capacity of about 2,500 passengers. To take fullest advantage of the “pleasure cruise” to the picnic, many passengers congregated on the upper decks. Several witnesses who observed the vessel from shore recalled that the ship seemed to have developed a distinct tilt toward its port, riverward side. Something seems to have attracted the attention of a large number of passengers, for at about 7:30 AM, hundreds of passengers began crowding to the port side.

There was no crash, no explosion, no fire, indeed, nothing especially dramatic at all; Eastland simply slowly and quietly capsized into the shallow water of the river.

Another ship nearby, Kenosha, immediately maneuvered to start rescuing passengers, but many were trapped below decks. Though the emergency response was immediate, some 844 passengers and crew perished. The city and the nation reacted with shock and horror. The local papers immediately passed judgment as to responsibility for the disaster. Western Electric committed $100,000.00 to the efforts to care for survivors and to recover victims’ bodies. Naturally a spate of legal actions were undertaken. Famous lawyer Clarence Darrow represented victims in one action in Federal court. Ultimately, the courts found neither negligence nor malfeasance in the disaster.

Chicago journalist Carl Sandburg – later renowned as one of America’s great poets – wrote a scathing commentary on the disaster for the 15 September 1915 edition of the International Socialist Review. He later penned a poem to commemorate it as well. The poem’s incendiary tone ensured that it would not be published until 1993.

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

It was a hell of a job, of course
To dump 2,500 people in their clean picnic clothes
All ready for a whole lot of real fun
Down into the dirty Chicago river without any warning
.”

— Carl Sandburg, The Eastland

XLast week I was in Chicago, and I walked right above the site of this disaster, and motored past on a river tour boat.

For reference:

Sandburg in the ISR

Sandburg’s poem

Texian Victory At San Jacinto

It was on this day in 1836 that the news of the outcome of the Battle of San Jacinto reached New Orleans, Louisiana from which it was quickly communicated to the rest of the United States. Though Texas was decidedly not a part of the United States, and the Texas Revolution was not a matter of U.S. national involvement, nevertheless, the country was greatly interested in the outcome. News of the Texian victory made Sam Houston a national hero in the U.S. and it was widely assumed that the soon-to-be-independent Texas would become a state in the Union.

On April 21, 1836, Texian (as they then styled themselves) forces under the leadership of General Sam Houston defeated Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army at the battle of San Jacinto. This victory won for Texas its independence from Mexico, and paved the way for the creation of The Republic of Texas, an independent nation for a decade.

Mexico’s loss of Texas really comes as no surprise under the circumstances: the population of Texas was overwhelmingly composed of Yanqui settlers who had been invited into Texas. Spain had claimed the land that would become Texas as early as 1536, but for the next 290 years made no effort to settle the vast and often inhospitable land. After the United States acquired the Louisiana Territory by purchase in 1803, Spain realized that the Americans would soon be looking westward at the open lands of Texas. In nearly three centuries, Spain had established just three settlements in Texas: San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and Goliad. By 1820, the population of Texas that was reckoned as Spanish subjects amounted to about 4,000 (no one bothered to count the native tribes, naturally!)

In order to strengthen their claim on the territory, Spain invited Americans to settle in Texas, so long as they swore allegiance to Spain and nominally adopted the Roman Catholic faith. Moses Austin and his son Stephen Fuller Austin organized American settlements in Texas, drawing heavily from Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. With Mexico’s successful overthrow of Spanish rule in 1821, these newly imported Yanquis were theoretically citizens of Mexico. Mexico decided to maintain Spain’s policy of inviting more Yanqui settlers into Texas. So successful was this program, that by 1835 the population of Texas had grown to about 45,000!

Despite oaths of allegiance, most of these Yanqui settlers considered themselves Americans, and they enjoyed the relatively free hand they were given to manage their affairs within the Mexican federal system. As Mexico became more concerned about the loyalty of these settlers, it began to impose restrictions on immigration and also put limits on local autonomy. These impositions were greatly resented by the Yanqui Texians, (“Texian” is the demonym used to denote inhabitants of Texas prior to statehood) and several rebellious demonstrations took place.

In 1834, General Santa Anna, who had been democratically elected Presidente the year before, assumed dictatorial powers, and suspended the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which had granted significant local power to Texas. The Texians, both Yanqui settlers and native Tejanos, resented this restriction – and notably, they resented Santa Anna’s intention to prohibit slavery in Texas. Santa Anna swore to force the Texian back into submission. The Texians pledged to defend themselves against the oppressor. As armed conflict grew inevitable, popular sentiment moved toward complete separation from Mexico, though not as an independent nation: from the start, Texians felt that Texas should join The United States of America.

When General Santa Anna marched north into Texas, he headed a small but well-trained Army. Determined to capture San Antonio, then the most important city in Texas, Santa Anna learned that a small garrison was holding the city’s mission church known as The Alamo, as a fortress. Santa Anna decided that he would have to conclude this situation before he could make further advance.

The two weeks that Santa Anna devoted to taking the Alamo gave the Texian army time to regroup and reinforce. The brutality with which Santa Anna treated the Alamo’s defenders ignited a great fury and an even greater resolve among the Texians, who made “Remember the Alamo” a cry that echoes unto our own day. As is the case with most symbolically important events, the details of the Alamo are often obscured and exaggerated, but it is true that the time gained by the defenders of the Alamo was crucial to the ultimate success of the Texian rebellion.

On 26 March, Santa Anna’s troops captured the Texian defenders of the town of Goliad. Despite their formal surrender in accordance with military protocol, Santa Anna ordered all the captured Texian soldiers to be shot, beaten to death, or trampled by cavalry. This gross breach of the Law of Arms not only enraged the Texians and ultimately much of the outside world, it greatly demoralized Santa Anna’s own troops: not only had their general flouted the rules of warfare, his mercilessness would surely be returned by the Texians!

Six weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna’s 2,400 man force was encamped on low ground near the present city of Houston at San Jacinto. In the late afternoon of 21 April, the Texian forces caught the Mexican Army literally as it slept: some 900 or so Texians announced their presence with a shout – it is claimed they shouted “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”

What ensued was a slaughter, pure and simple. The unwary Mexican troops were unable to organize a coordinated response, and despite their formal military expertise, they were trained for set engagements on the battlefield, not hand to hand fighting in swampy mire. In about 18 minutes it was all over: more than 600 Mexican troops had been killed, nearly 800 captured. The Texian losses amounted to nine killed and thirty wounded. Though Santa Anna initially escaped, he was captured and forced to grant Texas’ independence.

General Sam Houston, wounded during the combat, survived and was later elected the first president of The Republic of Texas. He would later serve as Senator and Governor of the state after it was admitted into the Union. Texas remained an independent nation for almost ten years, and was widely recognized in Europe, but not by most Latin American nations. The four-vessel Texas Navy repeatedly attacked Mexican shipping during the years of independence, helping to deter Mexico from a new invasion. Finally, in 1845, the United States admitted Texas as the 28th state.

But for Santa Anna’s overwhelming and unjustified confidence, and his Texas-sized ego, Texas might have remained under Mexican rule. But for the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas would never have become independent. There is a massive monument at the battle site – taller than the Washington Monument, of course! – and Texas still take pride in the stories and myths that make up the history and traditions of this great state!

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

If I owned Hell and Texas, I’d live in Hell and rent-out Texas!

— General W.T. Sherman

And here is a poem that my Texan Grandfather used to recite, and which
my Mom taught me before I was in school; it has always colored
my impressions of Texas:

Hell in Texas

Oh, the Devil in hell they say he was chained,
And there for a thousand years he remained;
He neither complained nor did he groan,
But decided he’d start up a hell of his own,
Where he could torment the souls of men
Without being shut in a prison pen;
So he asked the Lord if He had any sand
Left over from making this great land.

The Lord He said, “Yes, I have plenty on hand,
But it’s away down south on the Rio Grande,
And, to tell you the truth, the stuff is so poor
I doubt if ’twill do for hell any more.”
The Devil went down and looked over the truck,
And he said if it came as a gift he was stuck,
For when he’d examined it carefully and well
He decided the place was too dry for a hell.

But the Lord just to get the stuff off His hands
He promised the Devil He’d water the land,
For he had some old water that was of no use,
A regular bog hole that stunk like the deuce.
So the grant it was made and the deed it was given;
The Lord He returned to His place up in heaven.
The Devil soon saw he had everything needed
To make up a hell and so he proceeded.

He scattered tarantulas over the roads,
Put thorns on the cactus and horns on the toads,
He sprinkled the sands with millions of ants
So the man that sits down must wear soles on his pants.
He lengthened the horns of the Texas steer,
And added an inch to the jack rabbit’s ear;
He put water puppies in all of the lakes,
And under the rocks he put rattlesnakes.

He hung thorns and brambles on all of the trees,
He mixed up the dust with jiggers and fleas;
The rattlesnake bites you, the scorpion stings,
The mosquito delights you by buzzing his wings.
The heat in the summer’s a hundred and ten,
Too hot for the Devil and too hot for men;
And all who remained in that climate soon bore
Cuts, bites, stings, and scratches, and blisters galore.

He quickened the buck of the bronco steed,
And poisoned the feet of the centipede;
The wild boar roams in the black chaparral
It’s a hell of a place that we’ve got for a hell.
He planted red pepper beside of the brooks;
The Mexicans use them in all that they cook.
Just dine with a Mexican and then you will shout,
“I’ve hell on the inside as well as the out! “

from American Ballads and Folk Songs, Lomax

275 Years Ago: Handel’s “Messiah” Premiers

It was on this day, 13 April, that George Frideric Handel’s magnificent oratorio Messiah was premiered in the Great Music Hall on Dublin’s Fisamble Street. Though in this day and age Messiah is most often performed for Christmas, it was written for specifically for Easter. The thirteenth of April in 1742 was Tuesday of Holy Week according to the older Julian calendar which Great Britain and Ireland used at the time of the premier. Messiah has remained one of the most frequently performed of all choral works. Because the full oratorio can take more than two and a half hours to perform, Messiah is today most often performed as selected excerpts.

The first performance on 13 April 1742 was realized by a rather modest orchestra and chorus. As Messiah gained in popularity, it became common to include bigger and bigger choirs with larger numbers of instrumentalists and more complex instrumentation. No less a musical luminary than Mozart felt moved to orchestrate a more elaborate, grander orchestral setting of Handel’s “greatest oratorio.” The trend toward ever more immense productions perhaps reached a zenith with an 1857 rendition in London’s Crystal Palace which included an orchestra of 500 and a chorus of 2,000 singers! The end of the Victorian Era saw a decline in the great numbers of choral societies that had characterized the 19th Century musical landscape. Accordingly, in the 20th Century, a revival of more “authentic,” smaller scale performances gained adherents. These performances returned to the surviving 18th Century manuscripts for musical details and aimed to more nearly match the original scope and scale of the productions of Handel’s day.

The enduring popularity of Messiah and the nearly perfect musical expression of deep religious sentiment which appropriately pervades Messiah have fostered various tales and legends about the creation of the masterpiece. Some of these remarkable stories are quite true: Handel did, in fact, compose the entire oratorio in a mere 24 days between 22 August and 14 September 1741. The surviving autographic score does contain certain errors, but surprisingly few for a piece of such length. Handel himself has often been quoted as asserting that while composing Hallelujah, “I did think I did see all heaven before me and the Great God Himself!” Though the quotation does not appear in sources contemporary to Handel, (it first appears in print in Horatio Townshend’s 1852 Handel’s Visit To Dublin) it has become an inextricable part of the tales surrounding Messiah.

Certainly, Handel did feel moved by religious sentiment in creating this great work; he concluded the manuscript with the abbreviation SDG, (Soli Deo Gloria; “Only to God the Glory”) and he later noted that he was pleased that so many of the performances in his lifetime, including the premiere, were charitable benefits.

Of the many beautiful and noteworthy choruses throughout Messiah, surely none is more famous or more familiar than he glorious Hallelujah which concludes Part II of the oratorio. By tradition, the entire audience rises at the start of the chorus and remains standing until its conclusion. King George II attended the first London performance of Messiah in 1743. Moved by the opening of Hallelujah, the King rose to his feet. Etiquette required that his subjects do the same. Because this tribute seemed an especially apt recognition of the inspired music, the practice of standing for the Hallelujah chorus has been maintained to this day. The great classical composer Franz Josef Haydn, upon first hearing the chorus in London’s Westminster Abbey, stood with the audience, and wept from emotion. At the conclusion, he proclaimed, “He is the master of us all.”

This chorus has been both praised frequently and criticized for the frequency with which it is heard in innumerable versions and parodies. However, there can be no more sincere tribute to this iconic masterpiece than that from Ludwig van Beethoven: “Go and learn from [Handel] how to achieve great effects with simple means.”

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better. – George Frideric Handel, upon being informed that the audience for the premiere had found Messiah entertaining.

Sources:

The Oxford Companion To Music, Tenth Edition, edited by John Owen Ward; Oxford University Press, 1995

Handel: Messiah, edited by Watkins Shaw; Novello Handel Edition, 1992

Accompanying booklet from Messiah, recorded by The Smithsonian Chamber Players, the American Boy Choir, with tenors and basses of the Norman Scribner Chorus, conducted by James Weaver, 1981.

The Life of George Frederick Handel, William Smyth Rockstro; MacMillan and Company, London, 1883

Handel’s Visit To Dublin, Horatio Townsend, Esq; William S. Orr and Company, and J. A. Novello, London, MDCCCLII

Happy Birthday to Dallas’ Turtle Creek Chorale

1980-poster

It was the evening of 19 February 1980 that thirty-eight men gathered for the first rehearsal of the newly formed Turtle Creek Chorale in Dallas Texas. At the time, the idea of having a men’s chorus which drew membership from and which would serve Dallas’ large, but not highly visible, gay community was a bold and daring notion, and far braver than one may readily conceive today. In the thirty-seven years which have passed since that day in 1980, so much has changed so dramatically that it is difficult to realize the very potent courage and powerful conviction that those thirty-eight pioneering singers expressed by daring to take part in that first rehearsal.

The idea to form a gay men’s chorus for Dallas was famously born as three friends chatted over cocktails one Sunday afternoon in Dallas. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus had been founded less than two years before as the world’s first musical organization specifically serving the gay community, and its initial successes and setbacks were much discussed in gay communities across North America. It had been more than a decade since the watershed Stonewall Riots, and the gay community was finding more acceptance than ever before. People wanted more social outlets than gay bars could provide, and many wanted to be a part of something which could provide both a creative outlet and a channel for community service. Musical organizations filled this need wonderfully, and many long-established gay and lesbian choruses and bands were formed in this era

Since the social and political climate in Dallas of 1980 was far from progressive, it was decided that the name of the chorus should reflect the area of the city from which much of its membership would be drawn, but would not include the word “gay.” For some years, this led folks in choruses who were more politically active to infer that the TCC was “in the closet,” yet this was never the case. The very first flyer promoting the first rehearsal of 19 February makes it quite clear; it proclaims the chorus to be created for gay men would like to sing and work with other gay men, and it notes that the first public performance had been planned for Gay Pride Week. The poster also emphasizes that “our purpose is good music,” and the chorus would be “an organization dedicated to enjoying and performing the finest four-part male choral music.”

It is not possible in this short narrative to give the history of the Turtle Creek Chorale the treatment it is fully due. But the highpoints can be noted. The Turtle Creek Chorale (“TCC”) gave its first public performance in April of 1980 after just 8 weeks of rehearsal, and its first formal concert was in June of that year. As is often the case with community arts groups, the TCC had its early struggles as it strove to develop its identity and to find the needed funding to keep the organization alive. Members who sang during the chorus’ first decade recall car washes and bake sales and other typical fund-raising efforts that kept the organization afloat. The early years of the Chorale coincided with the most devastating period of the AIDS crisis. The impact upon the chorus was huge, both emotionally and psychologically, and practically. Yet the organization persevered. The membership worked hard to support one another during a time when memorial services and funerals far outnumbered concerts. The impact of AIDS upon the Turtle Creek Chorale and the chorus’ response is memorably and movingly documented in the Emmy award winning PBS feature After Goodbye, which first aired in 1993.

The organization also worked hard to find leadership with the right combination of musical creativity, and experience, mixed with vision and energy. The chorus needed someone who could embrace and embody its core values of making beautiful music and building bridges among people of all walks of life. The quest was somewhat constrained by the simple fact that the Chorale had a miniscule budget from which to pay for the talent they needed! Yet, as some sage once observed, “The Universe provides,” and so it did in this case. Doctor Timothy Seelig, who had been dismissed from a church position in Houston when he “came out” in early 1987 decided that the Turtle Creek Chorale was an opportunity he wanted to pursue, despite the rather uncertain finances of the organization.

Dr. Seelig brought both outstanding musical credentials and remarkable vision to the TCC. For the next two decades, Dr. Seelig would direct the chorus as it attained one milestone after another. The chorus rose to international stature, its joint recording of John Rutter’s Requiem with the Women’s Chorus of Dallas reached the top of Billboard’s classical charts, and by the mid-1990s the TCC was recognized by Grammy Magazine as the most recorded men’s chorus in the world. The chorus performed for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Dallas, and for the Inaugurals of Texas Governor Anne Richards and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. The chorus frequently joined forces with other North Texas musical groups and consistently reached out to an ever-broadening definition of “community.” The Turtle Creek Chorale was invited to perform for both regional and national conventions of the American Choral Directors Association and performed concert tours across the US and abroad. The TCC was also featured in two award winning PBS documentaries in 1993 and 2005. On top of all these achievements, the chorus continued to devote thousands of man-hours every year to community service, and to remain a valuable asset for the city of Dallas.

In 2007, after 20 years of service embracing fully 2/3 of the history of the chorus, Dr. Seelig stepped down as artistic director. It would be easy to understand if he simply chose to “rest of his laurels” and to bask in his two decades of landmark accomplishment, but, characteristically, he has thrown himself into new projects and today, as Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, continues to provide leadership and service to his many communities.

Following Dr. Seelig’s tenure, an extensive nationwide search in 2006-2007 found Dr. Jonathan Palant, who served as the TCC’s Artistic Director through the 2011 season. Dr. Palant brought impeccable musical credentials and energetic embrace of the chorus’ mission to his role as artistic director, the chorus continued to accumulate accolades and to achieve notable milestones, including a concert tour of Spain in July of 2010. Significantly, community service remained a core value for Dr. Palant and the chorus, as exampled by 2010’s “Voices For Haiti,” a fund-raising concert for Haitian Earthquake Relief. Doctor Palant felt that the TCC simply had to find a way to help and he worked with many organizations and artists to make this happen in an astonishingly short time. This concert was a 6-hour “marathon” featuring several musical groups and performers from North Texas, and was hosted by Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope. After Dr. Palant’s departure in July of 2011, then Assistant Professor and Director of Choral Activities of Eastern Michigan University, Trey Jacobs was selected to serve as Interim Artistic Director of the Chorale. Though the job was originally conceived of as “interim,” it became immediately apparent upon his taking the podium that his position should become permanent, and in March of 2012, Trey Jacobs was named Artistic Director.

Under Trey Jacobs, the TCC remained a key element of Dallas’ artistic culture. In July of 2012, the Chorale delivered a highly acclaimed performance at the GALA Choruses Festival in Denver, Colorado, and in December of that year, the TCC broke new ground with a holiday concert series that featured two complete and completely different concert offerings. In March of 2013, the chorus was honored to take part in choral Clinics for the American Choral Directors Association convention in Dallas.

At the end of the 2013-2014 season, Trey Jacobs informed the Chorale of his intention to return a career in music education in Tennessee; the TCC’s long-time Assistant Director Sean Baugh was named Interim Director for the 2014-2015 season. Sean, of course, had some impressively large shoes to fill, and he was more than equal to the challenge, so shortly after leading the TCC in an outstanding concert celebrating the chorus’ 35th anniversary, on 4 March 2015, Sean was named Permanent Artistic Director.

Under Sean’s leadership the chorus continued to be a significant contributor to the Dallas Community and to the LGBTQ Community world wide. In June of 2016, just two days after the tragic news of the massacre in Orlando, Sean led the Chorus in a widely acclaimed concert for support and healing. Two weeks later, the TCC performed a joint concert with Germany’s Schola Cantorosa in preparation for the 2017 GALA Choruses Festival in Denver. In Colorado, the chorus delivered another bravura performance on 6 July 2016. The chorus ended 2016 with a historic “personal best” for the TCC; for its first time ever, the TCC performed a fully sold out concert series for “A Not-So-Silent Night.” The concerts received rave reviews.

Naturally, I have left out immense amounts of information in this short piece. There are so many key contributors I have not mentioned, and vital, dedicated people I do not name here who have made the Turtle Creek Chorales what it is and has been these past thirty-seven years. As I say, it is impossible in one brief essay to adequately cover thirty-seven years in the history of such a vital and vibrant organization. Any errors or omissions are my own doing.

Suffice it to say:

Happy Birthday, Turtle Creek Chorale! Here’s to many, many more!

— Jamie Rawson

2016-03-20-10-54-10

Armadillo Day Is Just Six Months Away!!!

Wow! It is the Second of February already! That means that Armadillo Day 2016 is exactly SIX months away! I can hardly stand the excitement!!! But today belongs to a different forecaster. The much-celebrated and ballyhooed Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning thereby foretelling six more weeks of hard winter weather. Well, here in North Texas the winter has been rather mild, days averaging the mid-sixties. But for those who set store by the groundhog-as-weatherman, Phil’s shadow is most unwelcome.

So why is today identified as Groundhog Day? What’s that all about anyway? And what about the fact the February 2nd was known as Candlemas in olden times? As with so many apparently simple things, the explanation is a bit involved and convoluted.

An old English rhyme states:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

In the Liturgical Calendar of the Church, the second of February was designated “the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.” The Mosaic Laws of the Old testament decreed that a woman was “unclean” for seven days following the birth of a male child, and that she must stay away from the Temple for a further 33 days, making the period for ritual cleansing a total of forty days. (The period was twice that long if the baby was a female! Gender equality was decidely NOT an Old Testament concept.) At the end of this term, the mother would return to the Temple to make a sacrifice concluding her purification, and to present her child to the Temple community.

From the very earliest days of the Christian Church, the feast of The Presentation (or Purification) was an important event on the Liturgical Calendar. By the end of the Fourth Century A.D., the date of Christ’s birth had been set as December 25; calculating forty days from that date produced February second as the date for The Presentation. So far, so good?

Because this Feast celebrated the entry of The Christ – The Light of the World – into the Temple and the greater world, it became traditional by the Eleventh Century to bless the candles that were to be used in the upcoming year. Originally, just the official church candles were blessed, but eventually household candles were included as well. The Priest would bless all the candles presented, intoning the words: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuae Israel” (A Light to reveal You to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”)

Possibly because the theme of this Feast was the entry of The Light into the world, or possibly because of older pagan traditions about mid-Winter – opinions are highly diverse about this – there was a tradition in lower Germany that if a certain animal should see its shadow on Candlemas day, it presaged six weeks of severe Winter weather. Again, details are hard to come by, but some sources specify that the animal in question should be a badger, others state that it should be a hedgehog. (Both of these animals “hibernate” in the Winter and very often are not awake to be looking around at shadows in early February.)

When William Penn invited German immigrants from the Pfaltz to settle in his new colony, Pennsylvania, the new arrivals carried their homeland traditions with them, including the notion that February second was an important day for weather forecasting. Hedgehogs not being found in the New World, and Badgers still sleeping away their Winter typically, a local substitute was found: the humble woodchuck or groundhog (Marmota monax.)

The first extant mention of Groundhog Day can be read at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center. It says: “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, (February 1841) was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

In any case, the tradition was a highly localized phenomenon, and not widely observed in Colonial America, nor during the years leading up to the Civil War. But, as so often happens, a good promotional campaign took a local tradition and turned into a national event. A couple of Pennsylvania newspaper publishers decided to make a genuine event of “Groundhog Day,” and Pennsylvania’s first formal celebration of Groundhog Day began on February second, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper’s editor, Clymer Freas.

Because of the novelty of the celebration and its homegrown character, early telegraph news services spread the story as human interest “filler” for their subscribers. By the late 1890s, Groundhog day was known across the United States. In the days when radio was the major mass medium, Groundhog Day was duly reported, but it took the advent of television to make a real national spectacle of the occasion. For Groundhog Day 2001, an estimated 35,000 people gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania just to see what the Groundhog would see.

And, just FYI: no meaningful correlation has ever been made between the Groundhog’s prognosis and the actual weather subsequently recorded! But, I must ask: what else would one expect from a giant rodent?

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” — Percy Bysshe Shelly

Two Hundred Twenty-Five Years Ago: The Bill Of Rights

It was 225 years ago, 15 December 1791, that the United States Congress approved the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, permitting The Bill of Rights to become an integral part of American Law and life. The Bill as originally submitted actually included twelve amendments but only ten were passed on this date.

The Bill of Rights, perhaps more than any other component of the United States Constitution, ensured that America’s bold experiment would have a unique and enduring place in the annals of human progress and human freedom. No previous government had ever explicitly and forthrightly placed such fundamental constraints upon its power, and certainly never at its very outset. True, there was precedence in this area – Magna Carta is often cited as the conceptual ancestor of The Bill of Rights, and the 17th Century English Bill of Rights was clearly influential as well – but nothing of this scope and scale had ever been established before.

As other nations revolted against their colonial rulers, particularly in Latin America, similar limitations were incorporated into new constitutions. Few have been as enduring and as influential as our own Bill of Rights, however. The notion that the government derives its just powers from the consent of the govern had been proposed long before the American revolution, but the notion that a government would itself limit its own powers was a new thing under the sun, and this made the beacon of America shine even more brightly in a world yearning for freedom.

We really should applaud the courage and integrity of people in government who, well remembering the abuses against which they had revolted, decided to hold true to their values and ensure that their new government could not lapse into the old tyranny.

Just to note, the Eleventh Amendment was never ratified. The proposed Twelfth Amendment was finally ratified 7 May 1992 as the Twenty-seventh Amendment!

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

— Thomas Paine

Modified 12/16/16