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The Family Has Gone Home

The family has gone off to the airport, where their plane home should be leaving in about fifteen minutes. It's been a wonderful visit. We went places and did things, and saw the Cubs win, and saw a circus, and all sorts of nifty things. To top things off, today is Dad Pony's 58th birthday, which he got to celebrate with a lovely breakfast at my apartment with all four of us present. Happy birthday, Daddy!

While we were in Chicago, I finished the book that my folklore professor gave me. It's How Early America Sounded by Richard Cullen Rath. It was a fascinating book, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in pre-Industrial Revolution times. It's not so much about music (though music does figure heavily into it) as it is about the sound world of 17th- and early 18th-century America. Rath talks about the different ways in which English colonists, African slaves, and First Nations tribes all perceived sound and its importance in their lives. He describes the use of sound to mark the boundaries of a community, to seal political alliance, to mark membership and authority in society, and to communicate with the divine.

Along the way, you learn some fascinating things, such as that the streets in a major city like Philadelphia are probably quieter now than they were three hundred years ago. Church bells don't ring as loudly as they used to, because we ring them differently in the modern era. And the acoustical structure of an older church, it seems, can tell you a lot about its denomination's concept of authority and relationships between the preacher, the congregation, and the divinity.

It's an amazing book. It really digs into the ways in which people thought about sound and how that shaped their perspective on the larger world they inhabited. Definitely worth reading, and I thank my folklore professor for it.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 12th, 2005 04:02 pm (UTC)
How interesting. Your talking of the book brought to mind something I hadn't thought of in years. My family is originally from South Carolina, then Mississippi, of Scottish descent. I remember my grandparents telling me that, when they were children (both born in 1894), if there were a death in the neighborhood, the neighbors would go and spread bales of straw in the streets, so that the bereaved family would not have to hear the sounds of the carts and carriages driving by. There would also be a black mourning wreath on the door and passers by would respectfully mute their conversations to give the family the quiet that they were thought to need at such a time.

Think I will see if I can find the book.

Orophins Dottir/Narvi

Jun. 12th, 2005 04:29 pm (UTC)
That is interesting. Cultural reactions to death are so different. You could have something like a New Orleans jazz band to make a lot of noise, or you could have the community creating a quiet space around the house. I guess that the creation of the quiet space might have served to mark off a place where the barrier between life and death had grown thin -- the same way that Samhain was the time when the barrier between the real and the supernatural world was thin.
Jun. 13th, 2005 10:30 pm (UTC)
Very good point on Samhain.

Also, that sounds like a fascinating book.

I saw a fascinating History program last night, involved some things on sound, but not all. I'll be posting about that over my way today, I think.

I always love your posts. I tend to learn things. :D.

Jun. 14th, 2005 03:18 am (UTC)
It's a great book. If no library on Long Island has it, surely the NYPL must have a copy. Hie thee to the city and pick it up. Learn all about the politics of church acoustics and how a difference in church-bell-ringing technique can actually dampen the sound of the things.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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