Saturday, February 16, 2008

Southern Gospel

The title is not meant to imply some exclusive hold on the gospel message by people living in the Bible Belt, but rather a name given to a particular type of music. Now, I do consider myself qualified to talk about things southern having lived my life in an area bounded by the southern coast of Puerto Rico, and the southern border of Kansas. Since my youth, from the time of earliest memory and now, I enjoy hearing and singing hymns. I particularly enjoy hymns sung by a Southern Gospel Quartet. I first heard this music in small country churches in rural southern Mississippi, and on radio and television. Numerous family members were excellent singers and musicians, and one group in particular sang, when they could, as a quartet. My aunt Modena was the pianist and alto singer, uncle L.S. sang tenor, uncle Ed baritone, and uncle Roy sang bass. Family reunions were sometimes held at Liberty Church with a dinner on the grounds following the service and more singing in the afternoon. I don't hear Southern Gospel as much as I did during my early years, but I can still be stirred when I happen to hear someone singing it. Country singer Alan Jackson recently put out an album entitled "Precious Memories". It is a collection of familiar hymns and is done with simple instrumentation with his wife and children as backup singers. I love it because it captured the simple style I remember so fondly. The man in the photograph is my maternal great grandfather who was a Baptist minister.

Gospel Singing Memories

Stamps Baxter song books,
covers threadbare,
hang in racks,
on the backs
of old wooden pews.

Liberty Church.
Fifth Sunday singing.
A big crowd is gathered
to meet and to eat.

Aunt Modena pounds lively
an old upright grand.
A family quartet
sings close harmony.

Everyone singing
sends melodies wafting
through windows and doorways
to sprawling oak trees.

Songs of the gospel.
A pleasing aroma.
“Precious Memories”.

The modern antithesis, and source of some concern, is the way we do things today. I think we are losing a vital part of our religious heritage. I am constantly told to stay silent because church isn't about me or what I want. I wonder. Well, as Mama Cass Elliot used to sing, "so I'll just lay it between the lines, yeah."

Closed Hymnals

Hymnals hang idle
on the back of the pew
replaced by words
on a screen.

Words without music.
Chanted, repeated.
Unknown melody slurred.

Hymnals hang idle,
their music not played.
Inspirational stories unheard.