frenchpony (frenchpony) wrote,

  • Music:

Maquoketa River Singing

I have been to Iowa, and it is indeed a fabulous singing. I took some pictures, but I haven't yet used up the film, so it'll be a while before I learn whether or not I can post any of them up here.

We arrived in Iowa just as the sun was setting, so I didn't get to see much of the place on Friday night. We were staying overnight in Hopkinton. From the little I saw of Hopkinton, it looks like one of those places that people are from. Apparently, alcoholism is a big problem in Hopkinton, because there's nothing to do there but drink. We stayed at the home of the lady who was running the singing. She lives with her elderly mother, one dog, and seven wonderful kitty cats. Six of them were friendly, and so I had my fur fix. I swear, at one point, I had a cat in each hand, and got to enjoy stereo purring. I also got to buy a copy of this month's Saveur magazine.

Saveur, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, is a pricey rag for wealthy metrosexual food snobs with a taste for the exotic. What makes this issue so interesting is that, right up there with "The Best Chef You've Never Heard Of" and "The Irresistible Aromas of the Spice Islands" is an article about the Henagar-Union Convention on Sand Mountain. So, in this article, starring as the Jolly Natives photographed with Exotic Native Dishes in Picturesque Native Settings, there are people I know -- mostly Iveys, but there's a nice picture of Elene Stovall, who's come to some of the Chicago singings, and Karen Freund of Algonquin, IL, sitting next to her. I have a feeling that, as an ethnomusicologist, I'm probably under contract to rant and fume about how terrible this magazine is for fetishizing and exoticizing the Other, and try and relate it to the theories of Edward Said. But it's summer, and I'm off duty, and I have to admit, I think this article is pretty funny.

First of all, the target readership of Saveur probably has no idea what Harp singing is. So, while half of the article waxes rhapsodic about the food, the other half is a very well-written description of a venerable Sacred Harp singing, although the blurbs elsewhere in the magazine consistently misidentify it as gospel music. Second, it amuses me greatly to think of wealthy metrosexual food snobs going all breathless over baked beans, pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, Poor Man's Caviar, and sweet potato cobbler.

The singing happened at a Salvation Army hall right on the outskirts of Maquoketa itself. The place looks like a newer, less lived-in version of an old clapboard one-room church, and it has the acoustics to match. Oh, man, did we make that room ring! It was cold and damp, and there were only about forty or fifty people there, but we raised the roof with song anyway. We sang four or five songs from sheets, not from the book, including P. Dan Brittain's "Iowa" and Jim Page's "Maquoketa New." The event drew singers from six states, which is pretty good for such a new singing. There was a strong Chicago contingent, and they seemed pretty excited that I'll be moving back there come August. At least, that's what I gather, since one Chicago singer led 94 "Never Part" in honor of this fact:

What? never part again?
No, never part again,
What? never part again?
No, never part again,
And soon shall hear the trumpet sound,
And never, never part again.

My general impression of the Maquoketa singing is that it's a friendly, relatively informal singing, and that there's lots of room for playfulness and experimentation. I like that spirit, and I hope that it remains even as that singing becomes more established.

(And, a note for interested parties: There's just something about a nice, smooth wood floor in summertime that invites one to slip off one's shoes. Sometimes I can feel the floor vibrating through bare feet, and that's an awesome feeling.)
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