Free Speech and the Mikado

This past weekend my wife and I got to see Lee University’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.  It was a strange production; it was one of those things where the audience sat on the stage and the performers did their thing in the seats.  The program regaled us with the usual politically correct rubbish of “it isn’t about Asians.”  (They could have chosen an all-Chinese or Korean cast; both would welcome a shot at making fun of the Japanese.)  It had the potential of being a serious dud, but Lee University, as all the world knows now, has a deep bench of talent in singing and the performing arts and the faculty to make the most of it.  So it was good.

I’ve heard the highlights from this, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance most of my life, but it’s only been this late in the game when I got to see them.  One of those highlights came at an unhappy time and in an unhappy place, but as always there’s a lesson to be learned.

I think one reason I ended up in STEM and gravitated towards French and Latin literature came from my less than satisfactory relations with most of my English teachers, from elementary school to my last English course at Texas A&M.  I’ve documented one of the more egregious incidents in The Geniuses Commit Suicide, but for mutual non-admiration the award must go to my first junior high English teacher at Palm Beach Day School (now Palm Beach Day Academy,) Robert Bayless.

Both in class and on the football field (a sport I should have never tried,) Bayless thought I was a sissy, and wasn’t shy about expressing that opinion.  Having an English surname only made matters worse because he was a devotee of all things Scottish.  What neither one of us realised is that I had more Celt in me than was clear.  On my father’s side, I had the McArthurs.  On my mother’s, I had all the Scots-Irish worthies (“horse thief types” as she put it) whose foibles are well documented in this blog.  Had I discovered my inner “hillbilly wildman” then, it would have ended badly.

In spite of all this, he could make profound points that stuck.  Probably the most profound one was in connection with Gilbert and Sullivan; in playing the highlights in class, he observed that G&S lived in a country (the UK) where you could make fun of the government and other social institutions.  In other parts of Europe (like Tsarist Russia) such satire was forbidden.

At the time I really didn’t understand what he was saying; like many raised at the top of this society, I lived in a world where the benefits of real freedom didn’t mean a lot.  Getting away from that was educational.  But now those who haven’t gotten away from that have the upper hand, and one of the casualties of that is an erosion of freedom of speech, especially on college campuses.

A lot has been made about the pressure on free speech from the students.  And that’s a problem.  Today we have a generation that, faced with a society which changes at a blinding pace, is running scared.  The last thing anyone wants to hear is someone advocating changing something else, especially when every change makes a new set of people unemployable, either temporarily or permanently.

But none of this stifling could move forward without the acquiescence of collegiate governance.  And it’s often more than acquiescence; they write many of these speech codes and carve out these “safe spaces” which make free expression on campus tricky.  That even applies to what gets performed on campus; one victim of our obsession with not offending anyone is The Mikado itself, which can’t be performed in many places.  I should be thankful that Lee actually put it on, politically correct drivel notwithstanding.

If we allow this trend to continue, we won’t be any better off than Russia, Tsarist or Putinist.  And that’s going to cost us in the long run.  Without the free exchange of ideas we won’t have any ideas, which only works in a corporatist bubble.  And we’ve had enough bubbles to burst the last few years to last us a lifetime.

But back to Bayless…I would be remiss in not mentioning that I wasn’t the only student/athlete who lived on his bad side.  There was one other, and I think he gave him a harder time than he gave me.  His sister teaches at Palm Beach Day Academy, along side Bayless’ own daughter.

God still has a sense of humour.  I wish our elites could say the same.

Tom Belt and the God Unlimited Singers: The Agape Factory

GIA M/S-142 (1971)

God Unlimited’s earliest works were a hard act to follow.  A group that, in some ways, set the pace for Episcopal/Catholic folk music sounds more “mainstream” than creative in this work.

Part of that was the inclusion of a set of “Mass ordinaries” (use of the term “Mass” wasn’t quite according to Hoyle in the Episcopal church of the day.) And those ordinaries showed that they were “in the groove” of the trial liturgies of the day and not the official 1928 Book of Common Prayer.  As a result they’re more in sync with Roman Catholic efforts than, say, The Winds of God.  It’s not the best Mass out there, and the multi-part harmonies almost guaranteed that it seldom saw daylight at the parish level.

The rest of the album is a good effort but a little of a let-down from their earlier heights.  The title track is an allegory of the “Jesus Music” era.  Unfortunately after the 1970’s most of American Christianity went back to making only grey bricks, with the disastrous result we have today.

The musicians:

  • Mavis Brechan
  • Jim Dumbauld
  • Tom Belt
  • Betsy Belt
  • Cindy Hofman
  • Robbie Bethancourt
  • Todd Sorensen

The songs:

  1. Kyrie Eleison
  2. Glory To God
  3. Creed
  4. Holy, Holy
  5. Our Father
  6. Lamb Of God
  7. The Agape Factory
  8. Light The Day
  9. Israel
  10. Free To Live
  11. I Am Here Lord
  12. This Is My Song Alleluia

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Ed Gutfreund: From an Indirect Love

Epoch VII EG100 (1974)

“The old folk Mass” has become the phrase used by teary-eyed, nostalgic Catholics (and some who left the Church) for the liturgical events of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the organ gathered dust and the guitars–six and twelve string–were unpacked for the celebration of the sacred mysteries.  But was it really folk music?  Or was it just music done in a folk style and instrumentation?

Falling into the first group is this album.  Ed Gutfreund, familiar to many old NALR aficionados, is a real folk musician who put out this, a real folk album.  He’s best known for his rendition of the Baptist classic “How Can I Keep From Singing,” which introduced this to many Catholic churches. That alone made him memorable, but many of his other songs deserve much more play and performance than they get these days.

Gutfreund, in some ways like Sebastian Temple, is an upbeat composer and performer. That contrasts him with the more moody, minor key style we see in, say, a Roger Smith, and that should have made him more popular as a liturgist.  The problem, however, may be that, as a true folk musician, his work is harder to perform than many of those who simply use folk instrumentation.

And it doesn’t take much for Gresham’s Law to work in Catholic music.  Gutfreund, like many other good Catholic composers and musicians (like fellow folk musician Juliana Garza) got thrown under the OCP bus during the pontifical reign of John Paul II.  Coupled with the liturgical translation changes, much of the “old folk Mass” is pretty much history. And that’s a pity.

Note: this album is unusual in one other respect in that the music specifically for the Mass is interspersed with the other songs, as opposed to the time-honoured practice of putting these pieces at the end of Side 2.

The songs:

  1. Good Morning, Zachary
  2. Lord, Have Mercy On Us All
  3. Alleluia, Praise To The Lord
  4. When We See
  5. Back And Forth
  6. In The Day Of The Lord
  7. How Can I Keep From Singing
  8. When We Gather We Proclaim
  9. The Children Of Sunlight
  10. Your People Of Faith
  11. The Lights Of The City
  12. From An Indirect Love

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Bernie Sanders and the Test Pattern T-Shirt

Shepard Fairey, who designed the Obama “Hope” logo back in 2008 (which has spawned many parodies) is “feeling the Bern” and backing Bernie Sanders, not only in word but in deed, with his tee-shirt design:

shep-shirt-black-front_1024x1024I dunno, this reminds me of the old test patterns TV stations used to use at the start of the day.  Below is WTVJ Miami’s test pattern from the old days:

TP-WTVJbBut I guess that a test pattern is right for a guy who could actually remember seeing these things on TV.

And those flames at the bottom…didn’t Saul Alinsky dedicate one of his books to the guy who lives in the hot place?

These hippie dreamers are just too much…

Sandi Yonikus: Building the Earth

Liturgical Press  11468 (1968)

This “pre-NOM” album (which means we’ve had one and a half liturgical upheavals since then) is, despite its pretentious title, a mixture of a children’s’ album and early Catholic folk.  Or maybe the pretentious title is reasonable: children are the future, something that the dropping birth rate of the time tended to lose sight of.  In any case, it’s a reasonable effort in both respects.  It’s also a composite effort: in addition to the children from the parish school, it includes seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and some help from the Catholic Student Centre at the University of Texas.  (That’s hard to take for an Aggie, but…we knew how to deal with Catholic students from Austin.)

In addition to this effort, Sandi Yonikus (1936-1988) was also a writer of children’s books.

The songs:

  1. Building The Earth
  2. Our God Is Good
  3. Spirit Of God
  4. Gio (The Little Yellow Bird)
  5. We Come As Your People
  6. I’ll Find Me A Mountain
  7. He’ll Come Again
  8. Knock On Any Door
  9. Sing Alleluia
  10. Teach Me
  11. Christ Takes His Throne
  12. Sing With Joy
  13. Gather ‘Round The Table

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The Last War of the Hippie Dreamers

With the Iowa caucuses in the rear view mirror, our Presidential campaign begins to clarify a bit.  Candidates drop out, others give mixed signals, still others need to quit but haven’t figured it out yet.  Most of that action is on the Republican side, but that’s where most of the candidates are.  When you have about four times as many candidates as you need to have, a lot of dropping out is in order.

The fact that the Republicans have so many candidates is a product of many things, not the least of which is that the Republican Party still believes in the electoral process to effect change while the Democrats do not.  Which one is right is a central question, not only here but in Europe, where the EU has worked hard to insulate itself from popular opinion expressed in elections, with dubious consequences.

Irrespective of their idea of how things get done, the Democrats have to nominate someone to warm the seat in the Oval Office, lest someone else spoil the parade.  The Democrats pride themselves in being the party of the future, demographically, sexually, economically, etc.  In particular the Democrats believe themselves to be the party of the Millennials.  So why has their contest come down to a slugfest between two old white people, while all the blacks, Hispanics, etc., are in the other horse race?

In his book 1973 Nervous Breakdown, Andreas Killen ends with the statement “…the crises of the 1970’s are not so easily buried; indeed they have reemerged with new intensity in our own time.”  To a large extent, the American left defines the “future” as the fulfilment of the revolution that took place in American culture in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the two Democrats struggling for their party’s nomination represent two different sides of that revolution.

In one corner is Bernie Sanders, who is the “purist” of the two.  It’s time, Bernie tells us, to finish the revolution, to put away the boorish bourgeois, capitalist system that produced the phonies our parents were and come into the economic utopia we’ve always known was out there but were blocked from its entry by another generation of greedy phonies.

In the other corner is Hillary Clinton.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell what she really is, but her career speaks of someone who, like many of her contemporaries, picked themselves off of the floor after the revolution and realised that they’d never get where they wanted to go without working within the system as it was.  That included her marriage to Bill, complete with tolerance for his Scots-Irish penchant for both womanising and not rocking the boat, doing things like balanced budgets and welfare reform.

Bernie for his part has the support of the young, who really are supposed to be the future of both party and country.  The people who support him have been inculcated by a generation of hippie dreamers in the ideals of the 1960’s; the dreamers were better at infiltrating the bureaucracy while their conservative opponents went from election to election.

Hillary for her part has the support of her fellow Boomers and the non-white groups which make up a great deal of the Democrat party’s base.  Most of Bernie’s base–young or old–is white; part of the party’s long term strategy is to ride the increasing non-whiteness of the country to a permanent majority.

At this point, unless Bernie can break out of his white Millennial base, he’s finished; he’s only dragging the process out.  So what do we learn from all of this?

First, this will probably be the last election where the legacy of the 1960’s and 1970’s will be fought out in this way on the left.  Barack Obama is, in many ways, an end-run around this conflict.  Follower of the 1960’s ideal (and radicals like Bill Ayers) he is; typical product of this country he is not.  But now the day of reckoning has come.

Second, the left isn’t as unified as its media boosters would have us believe.  If the Democrats ever get to a permanent majority, the first result of it will be a split, pretty much along the divide we’re seeing now.  The non-white constituencies simply do not operate in the same way as their (mostly) upscale white ones do; we’re already seeing that in the re-segregation of our college campuses and “safe spaces” for different groups.  The real end-game for identity politics is a type of millet system, but the Democrats are simply too “American” to take full advantage of this, at least on a national scale.

The Democrats have this last problem, but the Republicans have it even more.  The Republican Party has proven its ability to produce a diverse field for President, but its own ideological commitments will make outreach to those groups difficult.

The question neither side has a really good answer for is whether their idea will make for a greater country.  In the case of the hippie dreamers on the left, such a question is absurd: to their mind the world will be a better place if America is diminished, and Obama’s foreign policy is a reflection of that conviction.  On the right translating populism into success is a tricky proposition, which is one reason Donald Trump’s candidacy is so problematic.

In the next few weeks we’ll see which hippie dreamer comes out on top.  This election is very important, but it’s really hard to see a good outcome.  At best we can hope for yet another holding pattern while avoiding being caught in the crossfire between the hippie dreamers.