By Harriet P. Gross
The current distressing state of our country and the world harks me back to a piece of music and a poem, both old. I first became acquainted with them in 1951, and they were already old then.
That was the year I graduated from high school. I was involved with modern dance then, and early in my final semester, I took part in a major program featuring two exceptional items of inspiration for our efforts.
First: some music, called “Song of the Bayou,” written in 1926 by Rube Bloom – incredibly, a Jewish jazz artist. As we choreographed our responses to this piece for performance, we got to explore the movements of Louisiana’s native blacks themselves. I’ve long forgotten the steps, although in my mind’s eye there’s still a picture of us, sweeping our arms as we lay prone across the floor. But I can still remember the words someone had set to this music, and its key refrain was “O Lord, please take away the darkness; O Lord, please take away the rain. O Lord, please take away the darkness, and let us see the light again.” Today, this invokes for me both the New Orleans hurricanes and the prayers of many of us, as nuclear threats hover over our heads..
Second: a poem, written by Denis Aloysius McCarthy, an Irishman who loved America above all else. He was born in 1871 and died twenty years before we interpreted in dance what he had put into his rhyme called “This Is the Land Where Hate Should Die.” It has three verses; after all these years, I can still recite them from memory. And I think they speak today, loudly, to our current issues of immigration – religious beliefs – possibly even Confederate statuary! I’ll quote a few pertinent lines:
“Lo! every people here has sent its sons to answer freedom’s call…their lifeblood is the strong cement that builds and binds the nation’s wall…” “Though dear to me my faith and shrine, I serve my country well when I respect beliefs that are not mine…” “He little loves his land who’d cast upon his neighbor’s word a doubt, or cite the wrongs of ages past for present rights to bar him out…” “This is the land where strife should cease, where foul, suspicious fear should fly before our flag of light and peace…”
You can easily find both Bloom’s evocative music and McCarthy’s inspiring poem with simple Google searches. I hope you’ll do so!