Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I had said that I wasn't going to watch the inauguration. I was being a sore loser. And, I still am not thrilled, but I changed my mind and watched it anyway. It seemed like the 'American' thing to do.

I only want to comment on the music in this post. I may or may not comment on some other thoughts later.

First up was Aretha Franklin. She attempted My Country, Tis Of Thee. Now, Y'all, she was not good. Even if you like her style of singing...she was not good. She was way off pitch several times, and she didn't come close to hitting some of the higher notes. Plus the fact that she added in all those riffs that are not part of this traditional American song. I like Aretha doing Aretha songs. Now she can do those just fine, BUT, this time...she blew it! And the hat...words fail!

Next was a beautiful quartet made up of YoYo Ma,cello, Itzhac Perman, violin, Anthony McGill, clarinet, and Gabriela Montero on piano. The song was "Air and Simple Gifts" and it was arranged for this occasion by John Williams. It was beautiful.

You may be familiar with the song "Simple Gifts' is an old Quaker Hymn. The words are especially beautiful. Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine in 1848. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
Several Shaker manuscripts indicate that this is a "Dancing Song" or a "Quick Dance." That is apparent with such lines of the song as "turn, turn will be our delight" and "turning, turning we come round right". These are dance instructions.

Two additional, later non-Shaker verses exist for the song, as follows:
'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,
'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.

The United States Navy Band, the Sea Chanters, did a beautiful job on the Star Spangled Banner. It was sung in the normal traditional way, with nothing added...the way that song should always be sung.

The Marine Band also performed all the other musical selections.

I know there were many concerts and musical affairs going on all over the city. These were the only ones I can comment on. However, if you did not hear the quartet do "Air and Simple Gifts" it is available on You Tube. You owe it to yourself to hear this beautiful work.


nancygrayce said...

Tonja, I have to agree about Aretha. I wasn't going to watch either, but it's just like a police car chase, it draws you in and keeps you there.

I have many concerns. We will have to do a lot of praying!

Keetha said...

I didn't get to watch any of it, I was at school teaching.

However, I SAW a picture of Aretha's hat, and I adored it. I couldn't wear it - - - unless I was in a play or something - - - but I LOVED it on her. I wish I had the courage to wear one.

About the Shakers - - - I read some old novels about them. (Author was Giles) Their beliefs seemed scary to me.

He Knows My Name said...

Tonja, Here! Here! I would like to toast this blog. I'm so glad you said some things I was only to chicken to say. The same goes for the hat. :) words do fail!

Do you remember the commerical that ran for quite some time using Simple Gifts as their theme song? I think it was for beef. I never knew the name of the lively toon. I need to get that on CD.

Robin said...

Aretha might not have sang good but she sure looked cute with her hat and coat to match..I am all about the clothes....

windycorner said...

I can't help but think Aretha was affected by the cold. It must be tough to have to sing at her age in those conditions. Now the poet(Iknow, I know, it's not music) does not get the benefit of the doubt in my book. She was just plain awful. So halting and monotone and the poem was embarrassingly amateurish.I wonder if Yale is sorry they identified her with the school. The John Williams arrangment borrowed heavily from Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring and I think they should have given him credit, too.

justabeachkat said...

As you know, I didn't vote for Obama, but I did feel that this was an historic moment in history and was so glad I decided to watch. I even got teary eyed at times. I can only imagine how so many felt watching this happen in their lifetime. I pray...I really do...that I was/am wrong about him. He is our President now and he and his family will have my prayers.

Now...about Aretha...good grief!!! Embarrassing...the hat and her version of the song. Terrible!


Musicaljean said...

The quartet was indeed amazing! I loved watching how much they enjoyed playing as much as I loved hearing their music. We have used the song Simple Gifts several times over the years as a choir festival piece. I love it.

I was watching the inauguration on a live coverage website at school. But I had to start a class at 12:40, so I missed some of the other music.

RickMontana said...

Love the way my anonmyous post disappeared...let's see what happens now that I have a google login. Tonya, Aretha by her own admission on Larry King said that the performance was not her standard due to the weather. Gospel/Soul/Jazz singing is inspirational in nature so the riffs and whatever come with that. It is part of that tradition. I would have been surprised if she had done in the public school hymnal style. The rest of it was beautiful and I did not expect less given the performers. The parade was grand as well - watched most of it on CNN Facebook on my computer. I live in France and two major networks here covered the inauguration. (The entire election process has stimulated so much renewed interest in our country's core values.) Thankfully, we had NPR internet radio for sound.

Nai Nai said...

I loved it too!!!