Today began our fourth and final week of our tour. It has been an amazing journey so far and I have thoroughly enjoyed our travels through West and Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. Now, we will finish the tour closer to our home turf in East Tennessee. I believe in the idea that you are born to be either a mountain person or a beach person. I grew up in Miami and the beach was always just a short car ride away, but in my 22 years living there, I probably went to the beach less than a dozen times. Baking in the sun and getting sand in my toes was never my thing. When I spent a few summers in the North Carolina mountains as a boy, I realized that the mountains were my true spiritual home, so its no surprise that I now find myself permanently settled in Chattanooga. This week is all about the mountains and I'm very excited about that.
Our first destination was Knoxville for a performance of the Smokyland Sound Barbershop Chorus at the Ijams Nature Center. They sung two classic American songs for us – America the Beautiful and This is My Country. The group is dedicated to keeping the Barbershop style of music alive. What is the Barbershop style? Well, like jazz, it is a distinctly American form of music, specifically a form of a cappella singing. I've always been a bit intrigued by the Barbershop music style every since strolling down Main St. in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World as a little boy. One of the fixtures on Main St. is a roving quartet of colorful barbershop singers. Because of that association, I always thought Barbershop music was in the form of a quartet. Today's group had 12 singers and is considered a chorus. Upon further inquiry, I learned that Barbershop choruses are quite common. Here's how Wikipedia describes Barbershop music:
Barbershop vocal harmony, is a style of a cappella, or unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. Each of the four parts has its own role: generally, the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completes the chord, usually below the lead.
In the last half of the 19th century, U.S. barbershops often served as community centers – a place where most men would gather. Barbershop quartets originated with African American men socializing in barbershops; they would harmonize while waiting their turn, vocalizing in spirituals, folk songs and popular songs. This generated a new style, consisting of unaccompanied, four-part, close-harmony singing. Later, white minstrel singers adopted the style.
I really want to hear more of this music and I'm grateful for groups like Smokyland Sound for keeping the tradition of this music alive.
Later on, we found ourselves assembling at the Cherokee Dam where we met up with a Jefferson County inmate road crew to pick up a ½ mile stretch of Highway 92. In no time, the crew and a half dozen community volunteers filled up a trailer full of trash. We were fortunate to have an excellent escort during the pickup of two Jefferson county sheriff vehicles. They basically were able to lock up traffic for big chunks of time and allow us to work the clean-up without fear of cars zooming past us.
During the clean-up, I was very impressed with Eric Mcanly, our student outreach coordinator on the project. He has a rare passion for litter removal and environmental education, matched perhaps only by Marge. We interviewed him while he picked trash in the tall grass and he really made some profound statements. Bravo Eric for your energy, enthusiasm and leadership!
Earlier in the day, while we exited the Ijams Nature Center, I stopped the R/V right in the middle of the road and jumped out long enough to hand $20 cash to a man having a yard sale. I traded the cash for a used telescope. I wanted to be ready for tonight's “supermoon,” a once a year opportunity to see the full moon at its closest position to Earth. My girls are at a great age to get them interested in astronomy and as we hunkered down that night in our campground at Panther Creek State Park, I wanted to give them another opportunity to get excited about the larger world around them. A few years ago, we attended a star party at Fall Creek Falls State Park. That park as well as others in the Tennessee State Parks system host such parties several times a year. A great resource for star party information can be found at this website and this one. There is something truly gratifying about the expression on an eight year old's face when they see Saturn or a distant galaxy through a telescope for the first time. As a parent, you instantly relive the sense of awe from childhood when we see something so incredible for the first time. As a grown-up, those moments are so fleeting, except when we re-live them through our children.