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Will The Circle Be Unbroken

September 16, 2013

I was reading this article in Southern Living a while ago called “Song of the South” where the author was talking about  how much music is a part of the culture of the South and it can break out spontaneously in any number of locations, and I happen to agree with her. I disagree that is it is more formal in the North, but maybe that is just my family experience. The concept of how important music is was driven home for me this past summer.

I think I have mentioned this before, but I come from a very musical family. My Dad’s father had a degree in music, served as the music director of the family church, and was a  composer and arranger. Played a number of instruments and was a fan of music. My Dad’s mother sang in the church choir for probably 60 of her 86 years on this earth and went to every free concert she came across from when they lived in Chicago until they moved to the South. All five of their children played a musical instrument and sang. When my Dad was a teenager he even played the drums in the band on the Bozo The Clown show. Seriously. My Dad grew up in Chicago and my grandfather worked in communications and television, so all the kids were in commercials or something… my Dad the band. Anyway, my Uncle Bri is still in a jazz band and my Aunt Wen is a music teacher. Every single one of my cousins can sing and play some sort of musical instrument.

Granted, everyone but me. I tried playing the flute in middle school and was awful at it. And my best friend will testify that she has heard me sing on key exactly three times in our nearly twenty-year friendship.  My Aunt disagrees with her, but I still know I don’t sing well. If I didn’t look so much like every member of my family, I would think I was adopted. And even though I clearly did not inherit the music gene, I did get a very big appreciation for music. Love it, just like all the other members of my family.

So, when my Nana- my Dad’s mother, passed away this summer, it wasn’t a surprise that music was a big part of the celebration of her life. Honestly, even with my very bad singing voice I sang to her every time I went to see her in those last few weeks. I changed the words to the Stevie Wonder song ” I just called to say I loved you” to ” I just came to say I love you.” She smiled every time, but I’m pretty sure her hearing was gone by then, so my bad voice didn’t matter. For her funeral, my cousin Jenna, my Aunt Wen (the music teacher), and my Aunt Sue all sang the first half of Amazing Grace a cappella before asking the congregation to join. It was a perfect tribute.

It was at the wake that evening that the fact I was in the South really came out. There were probably 30 of us there… my family and friends of the family. We were all about to eat- a fabulous spread of fried chicken, rice and gravy, deviled eggs… I need to remember to do a whole blog on the funeral and wake experience… that food was something else, but I digress. So, as we gathered in the kitchen around  this great platter of fried chicken, we started to hold hands to bless the meal and pray in memory of Nana, and as we waited for everyone to get there and in place, someone started to hum “Will the circle be unbroken” which I associated as a country song but apparently it is religious as well.

But some of the lyrics go:

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

We sang the songs of childhood
Hymns of faith that made us strong
Ones that Mother Maybelle taught us
Hear the angels sing along

It was completely unplanned, but there we were, these 30 plus people, standing there holding hands, stomping our feet and singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as loudly as we could. It was cathartic actually. Letting some of those emotions out through song. Nana would have liked it and I honestly can’t imagine that happening anywhere else but in the South… especially with all that fried chicken!  You can see a YouTube clip of the song below, starts at about the 55 second mark!

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