04 July 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

One of the great contributions of the USA to popular culture is the Broadway/Hollywood musical. Among the masters at writing these were composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Most of their works were produced first on stage and later made into movies. The exception was State Fair, a 1945 film for which they wrote the score. It Might as Well Be Spring, from that production, won the Oscar that year for best song.

I doubt that there is a better version than that of Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in the video above. The words of Lorenzo in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice could surely be applied to anyone who doesn't enjoy this performance with its great melody, words and arrangement and a singer clearly enjoying himself:

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

(Apologies on behalf of the Bard of Avon for the 'non-inclusive' 'man'!)

Hammerstein was a superb lyricist and it's only as an adult that I've come to appreciate this. The dry humour of rhyming 'mope' and 'dope'. The line 'or a robin on the wing', though not original, reminds me of the immortal words of 'Anon' from Brooklyn:

De spring is sprung,
De grass is riz;
I wunneh wear de flowers is.
De boid is on de wing --

Absoid! De wing is on de boid!

Another great contribution of Americans to popular culture is the Western. One of the classics is the 1953 movie Shane, the music for which was written by Victor Young. The opening line of Jack Schaefer's novel of the same title captures the reader from the start: He rode into our valley in the summer of '89, a slim man, dressed in black. Though the film follows the book closely Shane, played by Alan Ladd, doesn't wear black. The novel and movie, like To Kill  Mockingbird, tells a story narrated by an adult from the vantage point of his childhood.

I studied in the United States for three years, 1968-71, shortly after my ordination in Ireland. They were three blessed years. I made many friends there and grew in the faith. I managed to do quite a bit of travelling, especially during the summer of 1970. I travelled through some of the beautiful wide open spaces that Victor Young's music evokes.

Here is part of the prayer of Blessed John Paul II during his first visit as Pope to the USA, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC, on 7 October 1979. I make this prayer my own with gratitude for the many graces God has given me through the people of this great country as they observe their Independence Day.

Today, as I thank you, Mother, for this presence of yours in the midst of the men and women of this land—a presence which has lasted two hundred years—giving a new form to their social and civic lives in the United States, I commend them all to your Immaculate Heart.

With gratitude and joy I recall that you have been honored as Patroness of the United States, under the title of your Immaculate Conception, since the days of the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1846.

I commend to you, Mother of Christ, and I entrust to you the Catholic Church: the Bishops, priests, deacons, individual religious and religious institutes, the seminarians, vocations, and the apostolate of the laity in its various aspects.

In a special way, I entrust to you the well-being of the Christian families of this country, the innocence of children, the future of the young, the vocation of single men and women. I ask you to communicate to all the women of the United States a deep sharing in the joy that you experienced in your closeness to Jesus Christ, your Son. I ask you to preserve all of them in freedom from sin and evil, like the freedom which was yours in a unique way from that moment of supreme liberation in your Immaculate Conception.

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