Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tuned for Revolution

It's dark and stormy. Everything is a little soggy and moving slowly, including me. This can come in handy if one is trying to sort out the notion of what Independence Day is all about.

Now, while I'm not one to get all whipped up into a Uber Patriotic Frenzy, I do appreciate the great many sacrifices made to found our country, and to keep it running the first few years. And that's what we're really celebrating today.

Part of my Geek Heritage is my fondness for Colonial Williamsburg, which has over the years established itself as the model for living history programming, research, education, and preservation. The Foundation really is unmatched when it comes to the art of rediscovering the past and teaching it in an honest, straightforward way. Plus, it's really, really fun.
Amid the crowd, you get sucked into the action. Suddenly it's 1776, and men in the town are heading to the Congress, talking about a Constitution, maybe even war. The Governors Palace, routinely open to tours, suddenly goes on lockdown because old Governor Dunmore is dissolving the assembly and carting off the gunpowder from the Public Magazine.

You sit with the Randolph family as they sort through their confusion and prepare for Peyton Randolph's departure for Philadelphia. Randolph is presiding officer of the first Continental Congress, so all this stuff Dunmore is doing is going to be a big pain in his keister. It's not hard to imagine the outrage, or even feel it, or the surge of pride when suddenly, atop the Capitol, you notice the Union Jack is gone, and in its place flies the flag of an independent Virginia.

Then as now, not everyone agreed with what was taking place. Plenty in the assembly and among the citizenry were happy with the way things were, and not all that interested in creating a stir. Declaring independence from Britain was a dicey prospect and took a lot of years and an awful lot of blood to accomplish. I'm not even sure we finished the job, sometimes.

But today, history says we did.

I started taking mando lessons a few weeks ago, and one of the tunes I'm learning to play is Soldier's Joy, which is older than I realized. It's jaunty and fun to play, and it's easy to imagine how upon hearing it fiddled as a jig in colonial times, it was time to roll back the rugs and stand the chairs to the wall. It's an extremely recognizeable standard, and you almost certainly know it. In this 1938 recording, future Senator Al Gore Sr. and his band play it at a square dance. (Gore and his opponents would try to out fiddle each other as they campaigned across the state, and he was considered one of the best, so his band became very popular.) Another version on fiddle and banjo, in which the tune may be a little clearer, can be heard here.

Well, having heard all that, I guess I better go practice for the next revolution. Thanks for stopping by and spending a little of your Independence Day 'round here. I hope the rest of it holds for you some joy and time with special people, and dare I say, a little music, too.

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