Saturday, October 22, 2005

Still Point: The Ancient Tones

This post by CAB at Still Point struck a chord with me--thanks!


"The people that play this kind of music know about the ancient tones." –Bill Monroe

“Ancient tones” is a phrase that gets stuck in my head every so often and I start thinking about the ancient tones in my own life. I think that they’re different for everyone but they originate from a similar feeling or source. The ancient tones arise from those voices, those echoes that tie us in some way to our past, to a past that we don’t actually know from original memory; a past that is in our bones, our genes, an ancestral memory of people that you have never met and of places to which you’ve never been but you know and feel to be as real as the ground you walk on right now. I can hear the ancient tones in the lined-out hymnody of Primitive Baptist singing, and can hear my great-grandfather’s voice ringing down through the years. I hear Johnny Cash singing “Just as I Am” and feel the flood of all those Advent Christian Sunday services that I attended, that my parents attended, and my grandparents, and on and on; in fact, my earliest memory is of sitting in church at the end of a service and hearing the invitation hymn, a song like “Just As I Am” or “Softly and Tenderly.” I can hear the ancient tones in a song like Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground.” With no lyrics, Johnson hums and moans with his slide guitar, painting a vocal portrait of a surreal moment in timeless time. I can hear the ancient tones in the Pace Jubilee Singers, an African-American a capella group from the 1920s who sing the blood-curdling words of “Oh Death.” I can hear the ancient tones ring through the walls of time, making, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “all time…eternally present.” The ancient tones beckon you to come home, if not in body, then in mind and spirit.

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