Tag Archives: New York City

THE LITTLE FOXES

Over the past few months I’ve learned a few things about an American playwright named Lillian Hellman:

 

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“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions” – L. Hellman.

 

When I read those words I ponder… who says something like that? Or, more importantly, when she looked out through her own lenses at the world around her, based on what she saw, heard, tasted, felt, smelled and sensed… why did she make a statement like that?

 

I traced Austin Pendleton to a scene study class at HB Studio this spring to study a concentrated workshop called Lillian Hellman Scene Study. I can say through my experience of narrowing in on the tragedy of Martha Dobie in her first play called The Children’s Hour that Hellman plays are little mysteries; the best kind – there are little truths hidden like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by a group of relaxed and present actors. For example… how do you cut a conscience? Why would you need to? Hellman’s autobiographies tend to give a little insight – but also tend to have a significantly controversial history attached to them. I borrowed my copies of her autobiographies as they sit on a shelf at the New York Library for Performing Arts .

 

Fun fact: I’m sitting on my sofa in New York right now listening to a YouTube recording of Ocean Waves wondering if any of the same insight that Hellman thought will run through the tide of my consciousness in this blog post.

 

That’s the thing about plays though – when brought to life they can’t but help to carry you through the playwright’s reflection of her time. You can’t (or maybe you can) imagine how nerding out with her plays on down time at my day job while New Yorkers stroll in and out to say hello all morning has inspired me. I’ve been looking up to find faces and voices talking to me with her plays fresh on the tip of my tongue. I can’t be quite sure if I’ve been grasping at a little something of what she saw – but residually – an undercurrent of life.

 

The best part about studying acting in New York – the very plays I’m reading and studying find their ways to Broadway stages! And sometimes they inspire groundbreaking endeavors; two talented female actresses alternating roles. The Little Foxes is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street and is directed by Daniel Sullivan.

 

foxes

 

The Manhattan Theatre Club production has Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating the lead of power-hungry REGINA HUBBARD GIDDENS and her careful sister-in-law BIRDIE HUBBARD given the “blue” or “green” nights listed on their website. My imagination is mulling over what it might be like to do that – alternate roles within the same production. I just might attempt to one day after seeing these ladies lead the cast through the switch.

 

floating troubles

atop my

sea of hopes

stack full

pressure

against

my chest’s

rise and fall…

 

The emotional rises of REGINA and the emotional falls of BIRDIE are fascinating to witness. In this play, set in the South, the Hubbard family schemes and quarrels over pieces of their pie i.e. the distribution of money among each other. Regina likes to join in on the competitive schemes with her brothers; while Birdie escapes from any pain as much as she can. There doesn’t seem to be a medium among the two; they are either slowly lurking in charge, as Regina does, or lightly asking power to please step away, as in Birdie’s case.

 

…I feel

the barge

passing

parting

liquid thoughts

again…

 
What struck me the most in this play was an examination of getting more. There is raw, gritty desire for more shares, more information, more time with a loved one, or more opportunity to banter about any of the above desires. Some desires seem to overshadow others when in competition – and some desires conveniently find symbiosis when necessary. An example being the scheme to arrange a marriage between Regina’s daughter ALEXANDRA GIDDENS and her gullable cousin LEO HUBBARD in order to ‘keep money in the family”. What a thought – who needs to sell shares when you can marry them? Or something along those lines.

 

…soft landings

brim my eyes

closing

to feel the waves

opening

to feel the waves

roll under…

 

Over time – as the play progresses into the Act III I started to see undercurrents that carried the characters along. There are colorful, hand-painted Easter eggs hidden underneath each character’s learned and necessary ability to cut a larger piece of a whole. These mysteries were tugged along and pushed to the surface every so often – memories of Birdie’s kind mother, Birdie’s ability to hide abuse, Alexandra’s piano duets with Birdie, Regina’s revelations of her true feelings to her husband even when they’re ugly, Birdie and HORACE GIDDENS’ opposition to his daughter Alexandra’s marriage, Leo’s subtle wishes to gain approval from his father and grandfather, and the final moments of the play which open up Alexandra’s mourning of her father. These mysteries, to name a few, seem foreign when they peak because they are only allowed every so often when the characters can’t help but notice a competing humanity.

 

…foreign mechanics

tug my mind

through the

natural rhythm…

 “Sea Of Hopes” in A Collection of Thoughts: Poems By Carrie Robinson.

 

WHAT IF Birdie and Regina were literally foxes? My wager is below. Respectively:

 

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CONVINCING ME THAT NOTHING IS A FLUKE

Hanging out in New York City after putting in approximately six hours into the day job goes a little something like this for me: catch the afternoon cinema show of Suffragette at Times Square; text conversations with friend who is still at her day job to coordinate meeting spot for seeing theatre show, Allegiance, a few hours later; and, find familiar spot to wait it out.

I’m becoming convinced that nothing is a fluke and I happened to see the movie Suffragette and the Broadway musical Allegiance on the same day and so I’m going to tie my thoughts and experiences of the two different mediums and shows together now. I won’t be able to separate my experience of them completely since I saw them on the same day and the mind works like that – linking images and thoughts together finding patterns or stark contrasts as it goes along.

The front page of The Suffragette newspaper depicts Emily Wilding Davison, who died under the hooves of the King's horse at Epsom, as an angel, 13th June 1913. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

The front page of The Suffragette newspaper depicts Emily Wilding Davison, who died under the hooves of the King’s horse at Epsom, as an angel, 13th June 1913. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

Chronologically my experience started with a female-led cast of Suffragette recounting the path of women receiving the right to vote in the United Kingdom. The film was extremely well cast and it was very moving – being a woman myself and knowing that I was watching an account of historical figures who actually did fight for me to be able to exercise the right to vote, to hold property, to demand equal pay etc. It really says something that, for stories about women, it is very difficult to separate female relationships with their friends/family/coworkers/employers, and the motivations and actions that changed history. It might suggest that depicting women’s ability to carry their relationships has a lot to do with their capacity to infiltrate daily motivations and actions with what they fight for. It demonstrates that how women are forced to fight for their needs is an ability that proves much more difficult if society prescribes an unequal dynamic and voice in the home, the workplace and in political arenas.

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As for the history of how women suffragettes fought for equal rights – the movie reiterates that it was a fight that escalated into violence and self-sacrifice that is quite frightening (consequences of asking for an equal place in society resulted in police beatings, jail time, hunger strikes, loss of friends lives, breakdown of families etc.). These consequences were often inflicted on extremely over-worked human beings too. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to imagine what the world would look like if this level of conflict and scrutiny of the law had not occurred. The history puts into perspective that the past legislative discrimination still lingers on systemically and the leveling out of equal rights for men and women, and human beings in general, is necessary to pay attention to today! Prescribing equal rights in print requires an ongoing effort to infiltrate the effect of past discrimination into the every day lives of people. In effect it seems there is actually less violence and discrimination in the home, the workplace and in political arenas. (I’m all for that – less violence in all its forms – world peace yeah).

The film does indicate how women born or married into more privilege or class (Ramola Garai’s character) had a different level of safety and protection in fighting for equal rights than say… the protagonist ‘laundress’ (Carey Mulligan) of very low class and education. The only other craving for me in this film (being of mixed Algonquin, Scottish, Irish, Welsh ancestry) was to see some color – the experience of women of color who would have experienced a double discrimination of sorts (not being able to be ‘human’ due to being a woman and a non-Caucasian person). It could have been interesting to juxtapose that discrimination with the experiences of suffragettes who were Caucasian. Mind you – I saw myself and people I know in all of these characters in Suffragette regardless of their race or class – and that I appreciated and applauded the filmmaker and cast for. I’ve also recently studied a character, Joyce – a low-status laundress, in Carol Churchill’s Top Girls for a scene study class in the summer – so I couldn’t help heavily empathize with Carey Mulligan’s character learning to participate in society despite the severe limitations on her ability to do so.

Hmmmmmm…. so I went from that movie to watching the experience of Japanese-Americans that were incarcerated and placed in concentration camps on American soil during World War II. At my lovely day job… I’d actually greeted the famed George Takei in New York… which had caused me to Google him (LOL) and find out about this musical Allegiance in which he mainly plays, Ojiichan, a grandfather. I’m SO GLAD I DID!

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The inspiration and guiding light of this production was “Gaman”, a Japanese word that captures a principle of “endurance and dignity”. In fights for equal rights it seems many people have returned to this principle in order to stay strong through the vulnerability that accompanies a lower, unequal status in society. The Japanese experience of discrimination is also inextricably linked to the ability to carry their families with them. Having just seen Suffragette I started to see Caucasian women have this quality as well – it’s just not called “Gaman” all the time. The “Gaman” thread in Allegiance was intricately and invisibly woven by Takei’s character… the eldest/ grandfather to his children and grandchildren leaving an essence of strength and humor hand-in-hand wherever he went. In the musical he actually gardens and places chimes on the doorstep and these simple daily activities of fertilizing the ground and listening to the sound of chimes are symbolic of his effect on his family and his lingering presence. The embodiment of “Gaman” was in this old man, soon to become an ‘ancestor’, and had lightly folded his way into his family’s minds and on the very ground they’ll walk long past the horrible experiences of the concentration camps. I know people like Ojiichan, some of my ancestors – and my Vietnamese godfather in particular – was like him too, and I won’t forget Takei’s performance and ‘guiding light’. I truly believe that kindness can live on despite all odds.

And hey – if I didn’t work my lovely day job I mightn’t have fluked out and ‘Googled’ him and been struck by this performance. I also might not have had the extra motivation to jet out of the day job to watch some female actresses I admire pave the way for really great female characters in cinema. So I’m now more convinced that nothing is a fluke.

Why-You-Should-Keep-Your-Day-Job-For-Now

(here’s to kindness… and world peace…) 

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UGLY LIES THE BONE

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In the Roundabout Theatre‘s Ugly Lies the Bone a war veteran, Jess (Mamie Gummer), uses virtual reality therapy to recover from trauma and to manage her residual physical and emotional pain. In the process Jess leans on her older sister Kacie (Karron Graves), takes her anger out on her sister’s boyfriend Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen), searches for recollection of her beauty from a past flame Stevie (Chris Stack), and yearns for love from her aging mother (Caitlin O’Connell). Jess’ search for love and recollection of her former beauty is a heart-breaking task given the fact that she has become unrecognizable and is covered in physical scars from battle.

This play about the resilient relationship that is ‘sisterhood’ inevitably had me pondering. All of my siblings would agree that we have the ultimate big sister. A ten-year gap in age difference resulted in her taking me under her wing quite a lot. To the effect that when she first trekked off to university and left this kid sister behind… I wrote my very first poem. (It was also the first delightful time I can recollect being able to shock and dismay my parents with an inner life behind my pig-tailed, doll-like exterior – muhahahaha!). The simple sentiment was written:

My sister Jenn has gone away and I feel like a flower dying.

dying-flower 

I didn’t think much about the poem until recently although Jenn has it tucked away in some cupboard somewhere. I’ve since had ample opportunity to experience leaving my family to pursue my own dreams. Luckily my sister is so busy with her own children now that, save a few tears at the airport, there are no more depressing poems about parting. However, my life has a funny way of letting the meaning of my relationships sink in casually and intermittingly. I get caught up in the moments and sifting through the meaning of life’s moments tends to happen on nights like tonight. Tonight the meaning of sisterhood sunk in by virtue of watching a play about what & who helps a woman recover from pain and trauma.

Life can be quite painful at times and even normal occurrences, like parting with a sister from time to time, can produce poems and images of a six year old drooping over ‘like a flower dying’. In this play Jess’ pain is not only internal, but severely visible on the outside… all the time. The struggle to stand on one’s own becomes physicalized in Jess’ struggle to recover. I saw the right side of her body crumple inwards leaving the left side to pick up all the slack. This play begs the question if learning to stand on one’s own is a necessary skill – or if finding life’s compensation, like somebody to lean on, is actually more important?

In watching Jess’ physical beauty stripped from her due to skin burns I was forced to reconstruct my idea of the relationship between ‘ugly’ and ‘beauty’. The core of Jess’ humanity surfaced in a way that it might not have had she continued to stand on her own in her previously ‘beautiful’ state. The fading of her physical beauty forced her to face her fear and discover that the people she loved most in the world remember her for her true beauty. The letting go of her anger opens her up to the imperfect love that her sister and friends still have to offer. Leave it to Meryl Streep’s daughter (Gummer) to bring great vulnerability to a role such that I reflected on my own relationships and truly appreciate them. She contributed to a lifelong journey of mine to deconstruct the relationship between beautiful & ugly, dark & light, new & old, beginning & ending.

At times – and often in beginnings – we love the beauty that covers up the ugly, but at other times life asks us to love the ugly as it covers up true beauty – especially as we get closer and closer to endings.

Beauty is but skin deep, ugly lies the bone.

Beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds its own.

By the way – now I feel like a flower thriving:

photo-9

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DRUIDSHAKESPEARE MARATHON

2 PM Richard II

3:35 PM INTERMISSION

3:55 PM Henry IV, Part I

5:25 PM INTERMISSION

6:10 PM Henry IV, Part II

7:10 PM INTERMISSION

7:30 PM Henry V

8:55 PM END

Sooooooo HERE’S THE CRAIC:

Clear plastic ponchos are optional in the ‘splash zone’ of the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre in New York City. The location of DruidShakespeare Company’s adaptation and amalgamation of the plays Richard II, Henry IV: Part I, Henry the IV: Part II and Henry V as part of the Lincoln Center Festival 2015. Mark O’Rowe was the writer and Garry Hynes the director.

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I wore said poncho and shared a few chuckles over it with the other poncho bearers. I am sure I looked HILARIOUS. However, it did shield my wardrobe from the blood, dirt and rain that risked falling off that stage during fight sequences. Nothing fell off the stage onto me except sound (although the stage floor was lined with dirt, there was a lot of blood and fighting, and some puking). I felt very ‘considered’ by the theatre though!

O’Rowe was capturing a “play about fathers and sons… leadership, honor, the question of which elements contribute most to greatness – birth or environment or both. It’s about class… affections a leader must quell or kill in himself… to be a leader – which relationships he must terminate, which to nourish. It’s about war – it’s origins, its workings, its consequences.” (Lincoln Center Festival 2015 Program)

An interesting thing to notice was the choice to gravitate towards the performers’ native Irish dialects rather than towards a more English sound or classical stage speech. I sadly did not attend the talkback, but just finished a rehearsal with a friend who DID attend and she TOLD me (*tisk*tisk* on the hearsay here…) that the company’s voice coach, Andrew Wade, encouraged this move. Two things to point out here regardless of debates over how to ‘speak Shakespeare’: 1. The actors felt very grounded and connected to each other while in their Irish dialects; 2. You can tell that Andrew still worked on making the language and sound production clear and consistent so it carried in the theatre. In this way I always ‘heard’ the story due to a clever use of consonant and vowel stress choices on the actors’ parts.

ACTOR LESSON for me was that whatever the dialect happens to be an actor’s muscularity of speech is an asset.

Another most interesting thing to notice (and I’d be a fool to not talk about) is Haynes’ gender blind casting. I LOVE IT! IT’S NICE TO SEE MORE OF IT. I ALSO WANT TO BE PART OF IT AS AN ACTOR.

The company of thirteen actors played over a hundred characters with some female actors playing men. King Henry IV (Derbhle Crotty), King Henry V (Aisling O’Sullivan), Lord Chief Justice (Marie Mullen) and others. Why am I so intrigued? I think it has to do with the human spirit, regardless of gender, and the getting to know what identity is all about including both the dark/bright, high/low, masculine and feminine parts of it.

As actors we are trained to use our bodies and voices as vessels to transform into another identity – that of another human being. It is so exciting to see where an actor is different and where an actor is similar to a character – and sometimes this can be scary. By shifting a center of energy from the head to the heart or even the hips in an actor’s body the character’s perspective can change. Moving through space differently can change the point of view of a human being. Moving through space in a traditionally ‘masculine’ way seems to afford O’Sullivan more freedoms as King Henry V. Even in the very simple manner of speaking louder and more boldly than if he were bound to the movements of a female, in high status, of the era. The transformation of an actor into a character is fascinating. More importantly the shifts in identity that a character makes on stage is the character’s story. If the character’s story is being told physically, psychologically, emotionally, vocally… then what difference does the gender of the actor make?

On the flip side a male actor has often been known to play a character that is a woman (original Shakespearean actors)… and up until present continues to embody effeminate male characters with often traditionally ‘feminine’ traits. I really enjoyed watching Marty Rae’s character (Richard II) transform from a fragile, emotionally stunted King into a bold, rascal of a usurped ‘cousin’ to Henry IV. A really interesting metaphor is used, a looking glass, when he is finally usurped by King Henry IV. Richard II opens the play in a more ‘feminine’, ethereal, goddess like state that is slowly stripped away with his power. As he ‘looks through the looking glass’ he finally transforms his identity towards a singular, more human, angry ‘masculine’ presence.

One thing that binds all my work and continues to interest me in performing… is this question of identity and the question of transformation and I am genuinely moved by the way in which all of us are… society circumscribes us and we play into this feeling that we have to pick one identity and stick with it and any natural transformation within our spirit is to be resisted at all costs and if there is some great shift in one’s life one’s to feel nothing but shame and failure. That’s the thing I’m constantly drawn back to.”Tilda Swinton

Swinton’s statement is certainly relevant when examining the transformation of the identities of Richard II and Henry IV and V. What circumscribes their greatness? How does that change as their identities are challenged and shifted? As ‘greatness’ is taken away symbolically by crown and duty – what characteristics and events cause a remembrance of ‘greatness’?

In the minds and hearts of the people at the end of the play – most of the other characters on stage had known King Henry V as friend, comrade soldier, family member as opposed to Richard II whose choices reflected a more distant, shiny, hovering spectacle. This rendition of Shakespeare’s plays suggests that an indulgent, reckless youth can shift and grow into an adult, may become a leader, and it is what a leader does on behalf of the people (s)he leads that causes a remembrance of ‘greatness’ or of ‘honor’. Not only that… it seems to inflate a sort of self-esteem in a leader to also be considered a human being among people, not alone, regardless of symbolic duty and crown.

ACTOR LESSON for me was that I can initially look globally at a play and figure out who my character foils, if anyone, because it can give me clues on what the growth of my character could be, and the purpose it has to carry out themes… and to tell the story.

 

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EXAMINING GRACE a.k.a. elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.

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Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Questions to risk posing include when does the ‘sweet sound’ of grace become necessary… useful… inevitable… and why? How can it be ‘heard’ or ‘herded’ by people? When is it rejected… and how… and why? Where does grace come from? How is it generated? Who possesses it and can it be transferred to another? Does grace have the capacity to ‘find’, ‘unblind’ or ‘save’ another? Can grace inspire social change? These questions arise and are outlined by the famous Amazing Grace song, which is funnelled into Christopher Smith and Arthur Giron’s new musical, Amazing Grace, on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

One manner in which grace seems to be transferred to another is through sound. I first experienced, was teased, with Chuck Cooper’s musical gifts in snippets of him singing to demonstrate a sound, an experience or a manner of singing when he taught me in my conservatory. Chuck helped me to realize (although he doesn’t know it) that singing is a valuable thing. A thing that can release and express my true voice and can connect me for better or worse to others. The problem with having been in a class with Chuck is that you don’t get to hear him sing nearly as much as one might hope for. At the risk of being biased he is the reason that I was inspired to buy a [rush!] ticket, to tell a friend, and make my way to this musical. In my pursuit I was not let down – not only is his singing superb – his storytelling is on another level – graceful – the kind that brings forth the belief that people are equal regardless of the color of their skin. Enough about Chuck – what about his character (a highlight of the musical for me)?

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It is not just sound that inspires grace in this musical… it is what the sound carries within it. It can carry unconditional love – which in the context of this musical about slavery and the subjugation of one race under another is very difficult to allow. Chuck’s character is introduced as Thomas, a slave charged with looking after the every need of John Newton (Josh Young), a rebellious, young slave trader who regularly disappoints his father Captain Newton (Tom Hewitt) and childhood love Mary Catlett (Erin Mackey).

It is not Thomas, or John’s father or Mary’s love that inspires him to use his resources and privilege to correct societal wrongs on behalf of other people. It is when he is challenged to grow beyond his own difficulties and prejudices and to face his own actions that he decides to free slaves and to look at equality among races. A true understanding of love enlightens John when Thomas forces him to confront the fact that John’s spinelessness allowed him to betray one of the only people that showed him unconditional love – to torture Thomas and abandon him. It is Pakuteh who demands John’s respect and finds it in himself to forgive John despite all odds.

What struck me most was the efficiency of resource that Pakuteh, and the other slaves, possess throughout the play as compared to the more privileged characters learning how to utilize their resources more efficiently – especially in the arena of social change. Even in the face of his own daily survival and in the face of utter cruelty Pakuteh chooses to protect, to love, to keep safe, to have dignity, to educate, to see a larger picture at every turn. Simultaneously I witnessed Mary’s Nanna (Laiona Michelle) discover that she could help the willing Mary advocate racial equality despite all fear. The stakes are so high (life or death).

Pakuteh and Nanna, when backed into a corner, choose to allow and wield their meager resources towards a long road of racial equality. It spurred the utilization of John Newton’s abundant resources and influence to begin affecting racial equality and social change. In real life John eventually joined with others in campaigning to abolish the slave trade leading towards the Slave Trade Act 1807. He also wrote the song Amazing Grace, which has been tied to anti-slavery sentiments ever since. It seemed that somewhere along the line he began to believe that grace saved a wretch like him.

It still makes me pretty upset – to trace the mistreatment of people, to glimpse at both sides of prejudice, to understand what a tool forgiveness might be in the face of ignorance – but studying the evolution of social change while enjoying a musical on Broadway is definitely my cup of tea. I was educated and enlightened too.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home…

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

This famed song, this musical, all demand a belief in a higher power. At the very least an interest in examining where grace comes from – be that a Creator (God) or a confronting of prejudices and classes. What sort of resources are actually necessary to achieve joy and peace? Who gets to judge whose misery (be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) is more worthy to counter a ‘life of joy and peace’?

We’ve all got our takes on what that looks like post-mortality? Watch Pakuteh and he’s got a convincing point of view towards the belief in eternal life and light. A belief that may have been transferred to John Newton – a ‘resource’/ a young person that Pakuteh chose to protect and to forgive. He forces him to remove the ‘brand’ of Thomas the slave and, not only to look at him as a human being, but also to reciprocate his consistent and powerful love.

This musical is an example of the culmination of many experiences and influences that led to the conversion of one man, John Newton, towards the belief that redeeming his wrongs on earth will lead him towards an eternal resting place, a ‘home’. The cold hard facts are that this belief led him towards action, to a feeling of grace… to affecting social change leading towards the abolition of slavery and racial equality within a system that he happened to hold privilege in. It became irrelevant that he had been convinced for a certain period of time that he had more of a right to be considered a human being than the other people surrounding him.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Some people, and some music, just has that way about them/it that lets one unknowingly shift the light on different areas of one’s life and others’ lives – regardless of how one’s belief system or socio-economic class causes one to interact with the world.

How relevant indeed…

Oh and this was the line… OY!

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