Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Notes From My Knapsack 1-02-05

"Bicentennial Serenade"

2005 began, at least in Granville, with the first Saturday in December. The calendar is just catching up this weekend.
The official launch of a year’s events celebrating 200 years of Granville, from settlement to village, began in Opera House Park at the four corner center of town. Festivities began with town criers, a mayoral proclamation, then an ambling procession down Broadway along sidewalks, gutters, and parts of the roadway, to the Avery-Downer House for speeches, a poem, and a musical setting of the same, commissioned for the big bicentennial day.
In a nice historical irony, the technology for voice amplification was not up to the passing horse-drawn wagons, downshifting trucks, cheerily chattering crowds, and a stiff breeze; meanwhile, the archaic but well chosen criers were heard out to the far edges of the crowd, proven by the brief hushes resulting from their occasional pronouncements.
What resulted, for the participant, was a performance piece suitable for the occasion, of found sound and planned moments punctuated by reality, a fit product never to be repeated for a singular event, that can’t fit into the time capsule to be buried next December for the close of Granville 200.
As best as I can recall, it went something like this:

(intro: distant bells toll five)
"Hear Ye, Hear Ye . . ."
(Rumble of traffic, grinding of gears)
"Resolved, these 200 years . . ."
"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the . . ."
(A lighter set of bells that did jingle, in fact,
shaking off the collar of a slowly stepping horse.)
"We on the committee have been working on this day for years . . ."
(softer, not much:) "Did you bring more cups for the wassail?"
". . . what does that new store have for sale?"
"Let us now proceed . . ."
(Interlude: of jostling sleeves and scuffling feet,
a general movement to the east,
perhaps a salute to the first settlers from Massachusetts
and Connecticut, who came west to jostle for space
in this mound-strewn, Shawnee-settled land)
"Were we supposed to sing?"
"Angels we have heard on high . . ."
"Hey, good to see you! How’ya doin’?"
"Take a candle, here’s a candle, light stick for the little one?"
(Clopping hooves pace the introductions, as feet start to stamp,
Damp turf with fresh smell from heel gash and idle, turning toe.)
"My family came here in (drowned by passing truck,
the weight of years and the passing of time
in commerce and just dumb luck), and they found a land filled with . . ."
(whispered, piercingly:) "Do you know where the flutes are playing?
I meant to hear them last year, and don’t want to miss . . ."
(Second interlude: the passing of flame from hand to hand,
most quickly snuffed by an impersonal southwest wind, many
relighting from friends, from strangers, some persistent
and others indifferent, puddles of candlelight showing the
presence in the crowd of the earnestly stubborn
in the face of Nature – another settler image?)
"So we have come to this day, and I now introduce . . ."
"Who is that?" whispered in the ear.
"He just said as you asked me," the wry retort.
More greetings out by the edges of the spreading audience,
noise growing from outside in, silent near the center.
A general shuffle throughout the crowd, a mass
of people step to the risers, more introductions, a downbeat:
singers join in voice and gaze, stilling most and gathering more
by their faces unified in direction and intent, drawing passersby
into a circle of anticipation and expectancy.
Gently coming to a close, the end of the song marked by
New greetings and conversations, paused by the sharp bark
From the crier, "Enter the tent, see the displays, drink the wassail!"
And for once, everyone did as they were told.
Coda: "Good job, great work, what a relief, right?"
Answers; "more to do, many more to go, learn from lessons."
With night washing over us from the east (like the settlers),
the lights in the tent,
sharp smells of cut soil, spiced drink, and from canvas out of storage
are all the brighter.
Inside the Greek Revival home, tours begin mingling period costumes
with mail-order catalog parkas, wandering past windows
whose glass is age-warped and seasoned with bubbles,
an effect 200 years or so in the making,
framing the mix of commerce and hospitality
that is a bicentennial.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and occasional preacher around central Ohio; if you have an event to announce or news to share, e-mail him at

No comments:

Post a Comment