Wednesday, June 15, 2011

True Grit and the Everlasting Arms

...and bright, clear notes from a piano

The eternal God is thy dwelling-place, And underneath are the everlasting arms...
                                                               ~ Deuteronomy 33:27

I'm not usually the first to see a movie. Just this week I saw the remake of True Grit. I had seen the original with John Wayne, Glen Campbell, and Kim Darby when I was a teen, and then only when it was broadcast on television. When I saw the DVD of the new version, I was struck from he very beginning as I heard the musical score. There was some background orchestration and then coming through to the musical foreground I heard the piano carrying that motif from an old gospel song, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." It was true to that clear, pristine 19th  century quality of the old hymn. Later in the movie I heard that motif come through again and again, becoming especially clear as Rooster Cogburn was racing on horseback in a desperate attempt to get young Mattie Ross to safety after being snake bit. Then as the movie ended, the effect was heightened when we heard the voice of Iris DeMent singing that old hymn. I thought it was a beautiful touch throughout the movie, brought forcefully home by the vocal at the end.

It reminded me that there is something wonderful about a piano. Maybe it is because I grew up hearing the piano played in a small rural Baptist Church. We sang those old hymns that grew out of a 19th century experience and a 19th century spirituality. There was something pure and clear about those cords struck on a simple piano in a plain wooden-floored sanctuary. There was something reassuring in hearing the strains of those songs sung by the simple and ordinary people who worked the mills and farmed the land. How quickly the keys of a piano can take one back to a simpler, clearer time.


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