I’m No Better
Attending high school in the early 1970s in Anchorage, Alaska, I joined the East High School choir because I wasn’t good enough for much else in terms of extra-curricular activities. I just barely qualified to sing with the baritones. I was never really part of the choir socially, but they let me sing with them. I gained more than I gave, for sure.
We had a festival my junior year, hosted by the big rival across town, West High. Not that rivalry mattered much to us, but the school had more money, thus better facilities. The festival had us present our best and we were scored in some fashion I hardly remember, but it was vaguely competitive among a half-dozen area schools. The supposed highlight was a training session from a real serious conductor. He taught us to sing a few numbers as a massed choir. I remember two things — (1) the kids mostly reacted with mass resentment, and (2) one of the songs had an ending which stuck in my head.
After all these years, I decided to look up the lyrics and see if I could identify the piece. The lyrics were the poem by Thomas Hornsby Ferril, No Mark. The music was by Cecil Effinger, one of his “Four Pastorals” by the same name as the poem. I recalled the part at the end:
O swing away, white gull, white gull,
Evening star, be beautiful.
I can still sing it.
The sad part of all this is it was all I remembered. I never understood the reference to Chancellorsville, though I seem to recall the guest conductor told us something about the song. As far as I know, I was so deeply wrapped in my own little world, I paid no attention. And I was one of those who resented him, anyway. I remember the antipathy we all had for each other, too, it seems. I suppose being smart-aleck brats then is hardly different from today. I was just one of them, but with only half their talent, so I didn’t say much.
When I see a world falling down around me ears, I know somewhere along the way some of that mess bears my finger prints. I see it now, of course, and weep. I’m still out of place, fitting in no where, with no particular crowd I have encountered. Utterly without any sense of superiority, I see the same crazy headlong rush to ruin which has characterized the US since it began, at places like Chancellorsville. Everyone around me it seems is in on that resentment — things just don’t go the way they should, but no one’s really paying attention to the beauty of things which could be.
I missed the window, and I see it now too late. Most of the world sees about as well as I did then, all wrapped within themselves. They don’t have 40 years to escape.