I like bluegrass or old timey folk music and was watching the TV show, Song of the Mountains, which features these kinds of bands. One group played a line from Dixie briefly and then went into playing Dixie Breakdown. The song Dixie is catchy and likable and the Breakdown was a lot of fun to play, I’m sure, as well as to listen to.
The first lines, I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, is reminiscent but reminiscent of a time when there was slavery so someone could be accused of racism for liking the song although it’s normal to reminisce about where one is from, after many years have past. In Dixie land where I was born, early on a frosty morn, is something anyone could relate to. I miss the place where I grew up but when I was able, I wanted to leave there, though I really enjoy going back to visit. One misses the physical place and memories of happy times, not sad ones.
I wondered about the meaning of the song Dixie in the South. I looked online and came up with different definitions for the term. The origin most often given is that the term dix was used for ten dollar bills in New Orleans. Other speculation was that it referred to a “benevolent slaveholder” or the area south of the Mason Dixon line. The song came to symbolize the South at first in the North and only over time in the South and with mixed feelings. It was written by someone living in the North as a minstrel song. The lyrics which most people probably don’t know are from the voice of a Black slave who is concerned that the suitor to the mistress of the Plantation just wants to marry her to inherit her wealth. Some thought the suitor symbolized Abraham Lincoln who seduced the nation into voting for him. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/31/the-birth-of-dixie/
Everyone deserves to have a song to reminisce about their ancestral home and place songs are probably fairly common. Knowing Swedish folk songs, we have Ack Värmeland, a love song that is also about a place and Hälsa Dem Därhemma, a song about longing to visit home back in Sweden.
If the past is checkered, there must be confusion about what to cherish in the past about places. The recent series of events about the use of the Confederate flag is part of this confusion. The book, The Peoples History of the United States comes to mind in that often, different stories are told in the history books to cover up what really happened in his and herstory. I like the song Dixie, especially the melody and am not from the South but I understand the need for cultural bonding. The cultural bonding of the South though needs to be about healing and repairing of trust and confidence. South Africa had the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions which gave me a lot of hope as a peacemaking tool although a film some of us watched together at WISR several years ago, Zulu Love Letters, gave it a serious critique, that it is not possible to ever really make amends for things that happened.
I learned about slavery in Sweden and Scandinavia, the home of my ancestors, that it was abolished in the 1300s because of Christianity and because it was more efficient for landowners to not have to support slaves all year round. Vilhelm Moberg, author known for The Emigrants, also wrote a two volume set on A History of the Swedish People which included a chapter on The Swede as Bondsman. One forgets about slavery in Sweden and in all of Europe but as I remember stories on TV and in books, and stories from the Christian Bible, I remember many such stories of slavery which we in the USA often think only happened to people from Africa. Sadly, I’ve heard that slavery continues today for women and slave like work conditions in sweat shops and fishing ships in Thailand. Songs about slavery could perhaps be used to call attention to this.
The folk high school movement started in Denmark in the 1800s, probably helped to bring people together in a good way by creating a common culture although this movement has been critiqued as Gruntvigianism, part of the Christian Church’s genocide of indigenous people, the Saami in Scandinavia. https://www.uio.no/english/research/interfaculty-research-areas/culcom/news/2008/persen.html Now, after a change in awareness, the Saami have their own folk high schools teaching Saami culture. The his/herstory of the Saami people needs to be actively remembered as much has been forgotten. The Saami have a way of singing called the joik (yoik). When the Olympics were held in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, opened the festivities with a joik. There is an international movement to bring awareness about the Saami, an indigenous people to Scandinavia.
In the South in the USA we have songs like We Shall Overcome, birthed by the Highlander Center and many more wonderful songs came out of the Civil Rights, Labor and environmental movements encouraged by the Highlander folk school like environment. Arlo Guthrie and Pete Singer, great song leaders, both spent time at Highlander.
It’s good to be aware of the songs we sing. When I’ve visited my mother at nursing homes, sometimes the song leaders sing the same songs over and over again. One song leader, though a very nice person, seemed to lead the same songs over and over again. I was mostly privately critical of them as they included old war songs as well as Dixie. Another song leader was very sensitive and would find songs that residents could relate to and I appreciated her diversity of song repertoire very much.
I spent a summer in Sweden some decades ago now but when I was there, I got a taste of the folk music and fiddling culture. I went to a Spelmanstämning or fiddlers gathering. When I returned home to Illinois, I had a chance to go to a bluegrass festival which I realized was the same kind of thing, a gathering of people to play and jam music. People were huddled in groups, close together with their fiddles and other instruments, just like over in Sweden. Tonight on WoodSongs (following Song of the Mountains with a similar content), the host quoted Bill Monroe, the singer, guitarist and songwriter who Wikipedia says created Bluegrass music: Bluegrass has brought more people together and made more friends than any music in the world. You meet people at festivals and renew acquaintances year after year. As I write this, someone has reminded me that the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival is going on this weekend in San Francisco.
This is kind of community building is what the cultural movement in Scandinavia influenced by Nicolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig in connection with the folk high school movement, at it’s best, was intended to do. Cultural bonding and community building are building blocks for Education and Democracy, according to Grundtvig. See my other blog and look at the category about the folk school movement and Grundtvig: http://folkschool.wisrville.org/category/folk-school-movement-and-grundtvig/
On the nightly news tonight they interview Germans celebrating Octoberfest which they considered cancelling because of the recent Syrian immigrant situation. One German felt that Muslims will take over. I wonder how Jews feel, watching Germans welcome Muslim people in need. I think about the USA, and the contrast of European immigrants and the indigenous people who were already here. How do various cultures move forward peacefully? The folk high school model has been used to bring different cultures together in the International Peoples College in Denmark. When we leave culture behind, we leave values, yet if we cling too tightly to them, we lose concern for other peoples. Music and culture help to build empathy and concern on all sides. This was used as a tool at the Highlander Folk School, later called the Highlander Center in Tennessee. The film recently shown at WISR, You Got to Move, shows this very well.
As the evening goes on and the TV continues to inspire this essay :), an interview with the author of My Kitchen Year, Ruth Reichl, talks about how immigrants used to want to become American as quickly as possible and to hide where they came from. Now they show more pride in their ethnicity when it comes things like food and clothing. She also pointed out that now we are more aware of where our food comes from, such as whether or not cattle used for our beef were raised in a healthy way. So the origins of things matter in a society that embraces free speech and education for social change. The internet probably helps with this as far as diseminating information.
Grundtvig said, Man first, then Christian, meaning that we are first human, and then part of the wider society through religion as Christianity dominated Europe when he lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. Another way Grundtvig looked at things can be understood through his concept of the Four-Leaf Clover, in which he included—The King, the People, the Homeland, and the Mother Tongue. He felt there should be a balance between culture, language, and government.
I wish for healing in the US American South between black and white but also in regard to immigration from further South; also in Europe where the influx of immigrants is a challenge for people who seem to want to do the right thing over all. Then we in the US have to remember the Native Americans. For all these conflicts, perhaps we can start by finding what good songs we can sing to education ourselves and others, to put things into perspective.
Feel free to offer your thoughts on this subject of critiquing songs for cultural bonding that are also appropriate to be sung to build a society that is fair and just and kind.