Here is the inspiration that Biden’s inauguration gave me: I want to teach you a song! (Well — truth told: I don’t want to teach it to everyone, just a very “select” group: the teachers of music to middle school age children.) This is the story:
When I was that age, I was already singing in my grade school’s little choir, and the larger Pittsburgh Children’s Choir. Then, I had a very good voice. It lasted for many, many years, and I sang with many groups over those years, not just in school: They included synagogue choirs, a madrigal group (eight of us, sitting around a table wearing clothes of a long-gone period in history), a YMCA choir, a performing folk group, and the choir conducted by Max Janowski, a Chicago composer of modern Jewish liturgical music.
But all this ended, sadly, three days after my son’s 1969 bar mitzvah. His Shabbat was erev Selichot, and that evening — when my living room was filled with happily chatting people — I decided to just slip out for a time, walk over to my synagogue and sing with the choir. Which I did. When I got there, I robed up, and sang. I had no idea then that this would be the last time I’d ever sing again. The following Tuesday, I had surgery to excise a tumor behind my right ear.
The operation went well for what it was supposed to do — removing the parotid gland altogether. But it also scraped the facial nerve around which the tumor had grown. The surgeon was overjoyed that he had not had to cut that nerve, or I would never have had full motion on that side of my face again. Well, my face has never since then been the way it was before, but people who didn’t know me before have no reason to know that it’s different now. Only a camera will catch it, every time. There was a Bell’s palsy that left a paralysis which responded partially, but never fully, to nerve shock treatment. And neither the doctor nor I had had any idea that the procedure would also rob me of the ability to control that nerve, which is necessary for staying on pitch and reaching high notes. Sad, but true…
So now — here’s where the inauguration comes in: Youngsters when and where I went to school didn’t just recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning before classes began — we SANG it. I hadn’t even thought about that in so many years, but suddenly I could hear it all quite clearly in my head. God had not yet been invited into the Pledge when we were kids singing it, but our version offered two most meaningful repetitions: The entire phrase “one nation indivisible” was sung twice, and so were the two words “and justice.” Think of those additions in the context of our country today! They are just what we need!
Well, I tried to sing it, but failed completely. I should have known better than to try. But I realized that the musical setting is so simple, even I could pick it out on the piano, and it would take a music teacher less than five minutes to absorb the version as I knew it, and now remember it.
So any of you who work with children and want to instill in them a simple, melodic, nonpartisan, strictly American patriotism, please contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. At this time of so much need, I see the past — my past — moving into the future — their future — for good!