To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Year 4: Part 3: Post 2: I had No Right

Ok, this is an odd post--it's not an interlude, but I'm reverting to Daniel of 2016 because I can't figure out how else to describe these events.

See, Daniel Berrigan died last week--he was a Catholic priest and a peace activist whose existence I mostly know about because of a Dar Williams song that Steve Bees sometimes sang back in school--usually in snippets under his breath, the way he sang most songs, but also, once, in concert, an event that occurred in early June of 2002, in his first year. I was there, but at the time I payed very little attention. I knew Steve to say hi to, but no more than that, and I didn't understand the significance of the concert or of his choice of song until much later. That's why I couldn't tell the story in the course of the ordinary narrative.

What happened was that Kit discovered that although Steve loved to sing, he believed himself to be a bad singer, to the point that his irrepressible love of music had become a source of shame to him. Now, Kit does teach voice, and could have simply offered to teach Steve to sing better, but she thought that was missing the point. She conferred with Allen, and he agreed--singing should not be restricted to those who sound good. So they convinced Steve to do a concert and asked the rest of us to be a supportive audience.

And he chose that song, the one about Daniel Berrigan, called "I had no Right."

And, from a technical standpoint, he was, indeed, awful. The song, like pretty much everything by Dar Williams, is a complex tune, with little eddies and curlicues of voice and not much in the way of a normal melody. It's not a song for beginners, but Steve didn't know any better and sang it anyway and the thing came out as an off-key monotone.

But we all gave him thunderous applause anyway--we didn't pretend to like the sound, we applauded him for having to courage to try, and I believe it did help cheer him.

Later, Steve asked Kit to coach him in voice and she became his art master. He has since become a very good singer, not technically gifted, but certainly more than competent, and he has a curiously powerful stage presence when he sings.

The song also prefigured his political/spiritual awakening, which occurred a few months later. As a Quaker, Steve had grown up with the idea that social justice and peace activism are intimately linked to religion, and he arrived at school with an intellectually appreciation of left-wing progressive politics--but no real passion for it. In his mind, the poor, down-trodden of the world were an abstract Other whom he supported in the same half-hearted, self-congratulatory way most people do.

Then, he attended a talk led by Greg and suddenly all those people became real to him and the world's wrongs became an emergency he felt personally responsible for addressing. It was at that point that he and I began becoming friends, largely because I found his new enthusiasm interesting and then admirable.

He has made himself into much the same kind of person that the song says Daniel Berrigan was:

First it was a question. then it was a mission
How to be American, how to be a Christian.

So when I heard that the man the song was about had died, I thought it appropriate to tell this story, even though it is one that I only found out about after the fact.

I do remember that concert though--and I remember that afterwards I asked Allen about it, something on the order of why was it so important for this yearling (Steve) to be encouraged for singing badly. Allen smiled a little, the way he does when he knows he's about to say something that sounds odd.

"Sometimes people have to feel free to do things badly before they can do them well," he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment