The TV is filled with instances of persons singing during the pandemic. An opera tenor from his balcony in Italy; students from their dorms in Princeton NJ. Clapping, pot banging and yes singing, on the streets of New York for health care workers.
Singing comforts and transcends the moment. It creates and affirms the communities we all belong to. And it can inspire.
Down In the River
For Mennonites, music is integral to their religious services. Their a cappella four-part harmonies of familiar tunes effortlessly engage the listener’s full attention.
An example is this three-minute video recording of Down In the River.
The five verses invite first sisters (women singers) followed by brothers, mothers, fathers and finally all “down in the river” to pray. The swelling chorus walking to the stage adding voices and parts with each verse, repeats the same question. The white, plain headdress on singers and audience reinforces the simplicity of the music’s message.
Going IN the River
But how does going down IN the river relate to now? When uncertainty causes each person’s fate to be more contingent than ever, deeper questions of meaning arise. This reflective instinct is heightened when walking to water-streams, ponds, rivers, ocean fronts. There is a double meaning in the “reflecting pool” in front of Lincoln’s monument in Washington D.C.
In the opening pages of Moby Dick, Ishmael declares, “Yes, meditation and water are wedded forever.” Is covid-19 this generation’s white whale?
For me, this gentle folk tune invites us (show me the way) to go down IN the river and asks: “Who shall wear the starry crown” in this moment?