January 10, 2007

A Good End

There's a church in Brazil called Nosso Senhor do Bomfin, which translates as "Our Lord of the Good End." Just before I wrote my last post, I came upon this story, part of a reminiscence of the New England prep school I attended for three years:

At five o'clock, the Pemberton Mills, all hands being at the time on duty, without a warning of the catastrophe sank to the ground.

At the erection of the factory a pillar with a defective core had passed careless inspectors. In technical language, the core had "floated" an eighth of an inch from its position. The weak spot in the too thin wall of the pillar had bided its time, and yielded. The roof, the walls, the machinery fell upon seven hundred and fifty living men and women, and buried them. Most of these were rescued ; but eighty-eight were killed. As the night came on, those watchers on Andover Hill who could not join the rescuing parties saw a strange and fearful light at the north.

Where we were used to watching the beautiful belt of the lighted mills blaze, ---a zone of laughing fire from east to west, upon the horizon bar, --- a red and awful glare went up. The mill had taken fire. A lantern, overturned in the hands of a man who was groping to save an imprisoned life, had flashed to the cotton, or the wool, or the oil with which the ruins were saturated. One of the historic conflagrations of New England resulted.

With blanching cheeks we listened to the whispers that told us how the mill-girls, caught in the ruins beyond hope of escape, began to sing. They were used to singing, poor things, at their looms, --- mill-girls always are, --- and their young souls took courage from the familiar sound of one another's voices. They sang the hymns and songs which they had learned in the schools and churches. No classical strains, no "music for music's sake," ascended from that furnace; no ditty of love or frolic; but the plain, religious outcries of the people: "Heaven is my home," "Jesus, lover of my soul," and "Shall we gather at the river?" Voice after voice dropped. The fire raced on. A few brave girls sang still, ---

"Shall we gather at the river, . .
There to walk and worship ever?"

But the startled Merrimac rolled by, red as blood beneath the glare of the burning mills, and it was left to the fire and the river to finish the chorus.

When the Titanic went down, supposedly the band played "Nearer My God to Thee."

A Jew is supposed to say the Shema (Shema Yisroel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai ehad, which means, "Listen, Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.") That's more chanted than sung. A lot of people sing, at the very end. That's how basic music is, a phenomenon we barely understand.

No comments: