Greenwood Cemetery Concert: "To America"

A violinist plays in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y., as part of a “To America” program, October 2020. (Steven Pisano)

That spooky picture up there is not from Halloween, although it looks Halloweeny. It is from a concert — a kind of concert — that took place about a week before Halloween, in Green-Wood Cemetery, the grand old resting-place and public park in Brooklyn, New York. (It was established in 1838 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006.) The violinist was improvising on “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” by J. Rosamond Johnson.

I write about this event on the homepage today, here.

The words of this song were written by James Weldon Johnson, brother of the composer. James Weldon (1871–1938) was a poet, a diplomat — many things. It was he who inspired the concert in the cemetery (where he is buried). The concert — which also included poetry and dance — was called “To America,” which is also the title of a Johnson poem.

Back to “Lift Ev’ry Voice” for a minute. This song was actually a source of controversy in the 2008 presidential campaign. I wrote about it for NR in a piece called “Right Song, Wrong Place.” Kind of interesting, if you want to go down Memory Lane.

Speaking of Memory Lane: In the summer of 1983, between my first and second years of college, I was a counselor at Camp Wa-ta-ga-mie — a.k.a. “Camp Want My Mommy” — in Elgin, Illinois. Every morning, we had a flag-raising ceremony, accompanied by a patriotic song: “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” (which sounds suspiciously like “God Save the Queen”) (that was a joke), “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” etc. I added “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” to the repertory.

The camp is no longer operating, but the song — published in 1905 — endures.

Switch to sports: I have done a podcast — a sportscast — with two of my all-time gurus: Sally Jenkins, the columnist for the Washington Post, and my old friend and colleague David French. Go here. The podcast is headed “Sports in a Year of Pandemic.” Among the topics: How did Major League Baseball do with its season? How did the NBA do with its? How is college football going?

I also ask Sally to talk about an idea she introduced in a column two months ago: a college major in sports. A very interesting idea, along the lines of a theater major.

Finally, I want to lay a little more music on you, in the form of a review: a review of a concert, not in a cemetery, but from a palace in Caserta, Italy. Go here. The marquee performers are Diana Damrau, the German soprano, and Joseph Calleja, the Maltese tenor.

Their concert was — is (because it’s still available) — a livestream.

On March 6, I reviewed a concert in Carnegie Hall. Then came a boatload of livestreams. Not until October 23 did I review a live performance again — that was “To America,” in wondrous Green-Wood.

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