When I was a volunteer pianist in Madison, Wisconsin, a handful of years ago, I spent an hour each Friday afternoon, and again on Saturday morning, accompanying assisted-living residents who enjoyed singing hymns. These days, I don’t typically include religious songs in my piano programs. But sometimes an elderly listener requests a hymn and I oblige. That’s how I happened to play “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in a mid-Michigan independent-living community of retirees.
The song stirred feelings of patriotism in Lyle, a heavy-set man who had spent most of his life in South Carolina. Lyle made his way to the piano, his big loose pants held up by red suspenders, and said, “You need to follow that up with ‘Dixie’ to give equal time to the boys from the South!”
Then he gave me a brief music history lesson: During the American Civil War, soldiers in the North adopted “Battle Hymn” as their marching song; the Confederates in the South chose “I Wish I Was in Dixie” for their anthem.
Lyle was good-natured but insistent in his request, and when I played “Dixie” for him, he stood at attention with his hand on his heart. Right where the music dwelled.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.