Blue Birds and the White Cliffs of Dover

doverI’m a piano teacher.

Saturday I came home to find a big stack of old music left on my front porch by a neighbor who’d found it in a piano bench.

My first thought, was, “Oh, no, not more music,” but as I thumbed through it I found myself thoroughly enjoying sitting down to the piano to read through the old sheet music.

Some were familiar, others weren’t.

I found myself laughing somewhat ruefully at the words of Ira and George Gershwin’s The Man I Love.  As an adolescent I loved this song. I still believed in “Prince Charming,” I guess, and that someone would come along and “take care of” me. Actually, I don’t think I really thought that far ahead. I suspect I just wanted to be hugged. Or to be accepted as an okay person, i.e. beautiful female. Even then I had a strong streak of independence that wouldn’t have put up with being encaged in “a little home just meant for two, from which [I’d] never roam.”

When I came to the piece There’ll Be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover, I laughed at the title, and then realized that this was a WWII song written in 1941 by Nat Burton and Walter Kent, both American Jews. As I played it, singing the words, I felt the poignancy of the people of England facing the bombing of their homes, the children sent away for safety.

Then I came to the words, “There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after, tomorrow when the world is free,” and I felt tears welling up. Will there ever be a time when we have “peace ever after”, when “the world is free,” (according– since West Side Story was based on Romeo and Juliet – to my own terms of what freedom means.) The blue birds, it turns out were the planes of the RAF painted blue on the bottom so they would be harder to see against the sky.

As I continued on through the music I found more songs echoing a wistful hope for a better world.  A Time for Us from Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (an incredibly well done version of Shakespeare made in the late 60’s) calling for “A time for us… a new world of shining hope for you and me.” One reviewer compared this movie to West Side Story, which I found hilarious – since West Side Story was based on Romeo and Juliet – before I saw the movie, and understood completely after seeing it.  And then, of course, there is Somewhere from West Side Story (which wasn’t in this pile of music) – “We’ll find a new way of living … a way of forgiving.”

I’m sure there are dozens, maybe hundreds, more of these wistful, hopeful songs going back centuries. (Add your favorites in the comments.)

These songs are important, but they tend to paralyze me, rather than push toward working for change. What we really need is songs that call us to action, and there are plenty of these, as well. (These too could be listed in the comments.)

In the Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet there is at least one song that is a call to action. Arise! asks us to “open our eyes,” “beat our feet to the beat of our heart,” and “join the dance of life.” You can hear the music and see the words here.

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