Tag Archive | Minnesota

The 30th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention

This past weekend I drove up to the Twin Cities for the 30th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention. I’ve managed to attend this convention a couple of times in grad school–last year with Isabelle, in 2014 when Sparkers came out–thanks to UCLA’s late start to the academic year, but it’s certainly easier to drive up from Iowa than to fly from California. I didn’t know it was the 30th annual singing until I arrived. Turns out the first Minnesota convention took place the year I was born!

The first day, we sang at Olivet Congregational Church in St. Paul, not far from St. Sahag’s, home of my local shape note singing the year I lived in the Summit-University neighborhood. I also vaguely recalled having gone to an English country dance at Olivet UCC that year, and Midge, a fellow singer and dancer and one of the convention’s co-chairs, confirmed that the Playford ball was held there. I led 203 Florida in the morning.

During the breaks, I caught up with Ivy, a fellow linguist now in the Twin Cities. We first met as prospective students at UCLA. I also met an ethnomusicologist who came to the convention from Winnipeg but who lived in Georgia for a year and a half studying the language and the music! Where else do you meet Georgian music singers than at the Sacred Harp convention, I guess. I also “networked” with other Iowa singers; there are a number of us scattered throughout the state. There aren’t any regular singings very close to me, but at least there’s an all-day in the spring to look forward to.

Local singer Claudia had put together a mini-exhibit of six old shape note tunebooks which were on display Saturday morning in the church library. The oldest was a copy of The Easy Instructor from 1816, I believe. There were also two books in German (or bilingual in English and German), printed in Fraktur! One of them was Die Franklin Harmonie. I didn’t know shape note tunebooks in other languages existed; these were apparently used by the Pennsylvania Dutch. As I was looking at the books, another singer noticed my name tag said Grinnell, and she told me she used to hitchhike to Grinnell, passing through Austin, MN, to visit her best friend, who studied at the college.

Shape notes and Fraktur! (Excuse the shadow…)

On Sunday, we sang at The Landing, on the Minnesota River. Last year, I was there with Isabelle. At the end of lunch and at the following break, the ethnomusicologist, Midge and her husband (both Georgian singing aficionados, who’ve visited the country multiple times and who brought Zedashe to the Twin Cities), one other singer, and I attempted to sing a Mravalzhamier we all knew. It was rocky, but it was still lovely to at least try some Georgian polyphony at the convention!

I led 296 Sardinia, in the afternoon. At the end of the day, the co-chairs, as is customary, invited out-of-town singers to invite everyone to major singings in their parts of the country. A singer from Kentucky, who I knew I’d seen before, made such an announcement, and in it he mentioned the opportunity to experience an Old Regular Baptists’ service with lined-out hymnody. Somebody else said that alone was worth the trip. I had never heard of such a thing and wasn’t even sure I’d heard right until I looked it up later. I’m still not totally clear what lined-out hymnody is, but Wikipedia tries to explain. Shape note seems positively mainstream compared to this.

After the convention was over, I wandered around The Landing a little bit, like we had last year. I walked past the schoolhouse and around behind the barn to see if the cows we’d seen last year were in the enclosure, but instead of cows I found three sheep!

Summer’s End in Minnesota

At the end of my summer, which for the rest of the world is mid-to-late September, I went to Minnesota and brought Isabelle along. We visited the cats at Wild Rumpus in Linden Hills.

We stumbled upon the Highpoint Center for Printmaking on Lake Street and saw the juried print exhibition and Michael Kareken’s black-and-white watercolor monotypes of majestic forests in the Pacific Northwest.

With my brother, we visited Minneapolis’s first cat café, Café Meow! We met a very sweet cat named Oreo.

Photo by Isabelle

We saw Minnehaha Falls in its late summer glory.

We attended the second day of the 29th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention, again at The Landing, and I led 547 Granville.

On our last day, we took a walk in my neighborhood and found this:

Qing Dynasty Treasures and Boundless Peaks

I am woefully behind on blogging about my adventures, but such is the way of things. In the last month or so, besides diligently writing my dissertation, I’ve returned to the aquarium, enjoyed a 4-hour “study session” at the new cat café in my neighborhood, and spent nearly three weeks in Portugal and France. This post, however, harks back to early May, when I was in Minneapolis with Isabelle for the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. It was my first phonetics conference. We presented posters in the same session, and I met exactly the linguists I wanted to talk to about my somewhat perplexing study (one of them, from the University of Minnesota, lives practically down the road from my parents!). I also got to see a friend and fellow linguistics Ph.D. student I know from Swarthmore.

After our poster session, Isabelle and I had lunch on Eat Street and then walked over to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty. This exhibit was meant to weave objects and artwork from the Qing Dynasty into an immersive, sensory experience drawing on elements of theater. It began with ten minutes of meditation in a dark room. It was almost pitch black, but a vase placed high in one corner was illuminated. A piece by John Cage involving what sounded like pencils being dropped onto a stage played in the background. Several of the exhibit rooms included music, some of it rather strange. One of the rooms, featuring a carved wooden throne, had walls painted red with the image of a rather Western-looking dragon and a soundtrack of screams (possibly not all human?). The whole thing was rather unusual, but I liked the art.

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Look at those bats!

After emerging from the Qing Dynasty exhibit, we stumbled upon another temporary exhibit, Boundless Peaks: Ink Paintings by Minol Araki. Araki was a Japanese painter born in China who studied with Chinese painter Zhang Daqian. I was quite taken with his paintings, especially a monumental one covering several walls depicting mountains and trees.

New Story in Cicada: Lómr

My short story “Lómr” recently came out in Cicada! You can read it here. This is actually my first published short story. When I was younger, I subscribed to Cricket, a children’s magazine of short stories, poetry, and art. My greatest ambition as a young writer was to be published in Cricket. Cicada is the teen counterpart to Cricket, and I never subscribed to it, but somehow having my first short story appear in Cicada feels like coming full circle.

A little background on “Lómr” (if you want to go into the story knowing nothing, DO NOT READ FURTHER BECAUSE THIS IS PROBABLY A BIT SPOILERY): As you may know, I’ve canoed and camped in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota quite a few times. It’s a beautiful, peaceful, pristine wilderness. I started writing the story that became “Lómr” after returning from a trip I made to the Boundary Waters with three high school friends the summer before our senior years of college. Thus the characters’ itinerary in “Lómr” is exactly the itinerary my friends and I took. The story started out being about a group of friends who had been a string quartet in high school. They had drifted somewhat apart in college, and music had come to mean different things to each of them, but somehow they had decided to take this quartet reunion camping trip together. I never finished that story. Instead, a couple of years ago I wanted to write a story for a friend for her birthday. I took the unfinished Boundary Waters story, got rid of the string quartet, and turned it into a selkie story about loons. In the process, I think “Lómr” became even more Minnesotan.

July News

There’s a profile of me in the summer issue of the Swarthmore alumni magazine, which you can check out here. Lunar French and hammered dulcimers!

I’m in Minnesota at the moment. I came home just in time to protest our congressman at the 4th of July parade in my town. We were planning to stand on the parade route in matching purple t-shirts waving Healthcare is a right for all signs, but then word came that our famously absent congressman had not actually shown up to march in the parade despite being listed in the program! So instead we swarmed the street and marched in his place, in front of Keith Ellison and his supporters. I didn’t wake up on the morning of Independence Day expecting to wind up on the evening news, but sometimes it happens. I seem to be making something of a habit of this; several years ago a photo of me protesting our state senator at the 4th of July parade wound up on the front page of the Star Tribune.

Last Saturday I went to the 3rd Minnesota Shenandoah Harmony All-Day singing in Minneapolis. The Shenandoah Harmony is the newest shape note tunebook, sometimes called the wicker book for the color of its cover. I have my own copy, but I don’t know the songs well at all, so I didn’t lead. It was good to see lots of familiar faces, though (someone told me to finish my dissertation quickly so I could get back to writing children’s books), and I got recruited to be the resolutions committee, which meant at the business meeting at the end of the singing I thanked everyone who had helped organize it and “resolved” that we do it again next year. The Shenandoah Harmony has some good stuff in it, including this arrangement of “Hicks’ Farewell” that ends on glorious open fifths!

No Justice, No Peace

For the past week or so I’ve been reading Angie Thomas’s debut YA novel, The Hate U Give. In the opening pages of the book, 16-year-old Starr and her best childhood friend Khalil, both black, are driving home from a party when they’re stopped by a white police officer. After being ordered and half-dragged out of the car, Khalil goes to open the door to ask Starr if she’s okay, and the police officer shoots him to death. The rest of the book details the aftermath of Khalil’s death, Starr’s decisions to speak out as the witness to the shooting, and the complex relationships among Starr’s family, neighbors, and friends both in her neighborhood and at her mostly white suburban prep school.

Yesterday morning, I was riding the bus to campus and had reached the last pages of the book. I got to the second-to-last page:

It felt like the narration had broken a wall. Up till now, it had been about the fictional Khalil, but now it was about real people. As my gaze traced this litany of familiar names, my memory filled in surnames where I knew them: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice (twelve. years. old), Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and then… Philando Castile.

I flipped to the front of the book; when had it been published? Just this year. Philando Castile was killed a little less than a year ago, which means Angie Thomas must have added him to this list in a later draft of The Hate U Give (maybe he wasn’t the only one she had to add).

Philando Castile was from St. Paul, MN. He worked at a school, where he was a beloved figure. I remembered the protests that happened last summer outside the Governor’s Mansion on Summit Avenue, right near where I used to live. I remembered the four-year-old girl who’d been in the back seat of the car when the police officer shot Philando to death and who’d tried to comfort her mother, who was streaming her partner’s death on Facebook Live. And I thought about how over the past few days I’d been reading Star Tribune articles about the jurors’ deliberations in the trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez. The jury was struggling; the judge was advising them while turning down certain requests they made. This was happening right now, and here was Philando’s name in the book in my hands. Tears sprang into my eyes, and I thought I was going to cry on the bus.

After lunch, I read in the Star Tribune that Yanez had been acquitted on all counts. And I was not the least bit surprised. But my heart ached. In The Hate U Give, the police officer who kills Khalil is never even charged. Angie Thomas could not have written the book any other way.

There was no justice for Philando. This is wrong. Our country is sick. I don’t have eloquent words to offer, and my voice isn’t among the most important on this subject. I want to have Starr’s hope, and I think, somewhere, I still do. But right now it’s these words from The Hate U Give that are echoing in me: How? I don’t know. When? I definitely don’t know. 

Wildings Launch Party at Red Balloon

Preface: Look, I can’t post this blithe write-up of my launch party pretending like yesterday didn’t happen. And it would also be pointless to hide my politics. The outcome of the presidential election has left me stunned, deeply disappointed, and more than a little afraid of what the future holds. I am a woman of color, but I enjoy all kinds of privilege, and I’m more afraid for others than I am for myself. At the same time, I have faith that no matter who is president we can keep working to spread justice and end oppression. We can continue to welcome the immigrant and the refugee in our communities. It may be harder, but we cannot, and will not, give up. We are not powerless. And I’m resolved to do my part. And for those of you who are hurting, who are terrified, my heart goes out to you. I’m here for you, and I’ll stand with you.

So.

This past weekend I traveled back to Minnesota to celebrate the release of Wildings at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul! It was a lovely launch party. I feel so lucky to have gotten to share this occasion with so many people who are important to me. Members of my extended family, from both my parents’ sides, came, as well as a number of my high school friends and/or their families. My cello teacher, with whom I studied for nine years, came and admired the hand positions of the cellist on the cover of Wildings. My best childhood friend, whom I’ve known since I was born and with whom I wrote my first stories, was able to be there because she’s now in grad school at the University of Minnesota. One of my Lutheran Volunteer Corps housemates came with her husband.

My mother invited a neighbor girl who lives at the end of our block and whom I’d never met before. She read Sparkers in advance of the release party and sat in the front row at the bookstore. She asked several questions during the Q & A and then came up to the table where I was signing books several more times to ask further questions. One of them was who my favorite teacher was. Will anyone who’s read Sparkers be surprised to hear it was my middle school orchestra teacher? The last time, she gave me a card in which she told me she was an aspiring author. ❤

And now for some photos!

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Here I am! (photo by my mother)

reading

Reading from Chapter 1 (photo by my aunt)

signing

Signing books (photo by Madeline)

cake

The cake! (photo by Stef)

cousin

Me and my youngest cousin (photo by my aunt)

grandma

Me and Grandma Yee (photo by my mother)