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First Christian Church /  Beauty and Genius
Beauty and Genius

As I recall I was 14.  It was summer and I was visiting my mama’s people in Michigan.  This was when The Big Mitton was flush and yankee relatives told Tennesseans they were hillbillies showing off in shoes.  I had a cousin who studied violin, and thought herself tres chic, for sure.  She played records of her idol, Fritz Kreisler, and to be clear, he was that good.  He was an Austrian who  glowed in the dark at the Vienna Conservatory at age 7.  I was impressed.  However, each Saturday I watched Martha White’s Flatt and Scruggs Show on WSM.

After supper I’d go outside and crank up the Plymouth because it had the best radio in our house.  At precisely 7 o’clock, the bow would drag across the fiddle and that very same Lester and Earl, and their Foggy Mountain Boys, would sing the wonders of Martha White “biscuits, cakes and pies.”  (Goodness gracious, they’re good!)  The big thrill was that Foggy Mountain fiddler, Paul Warren. Warren played in that string band for the largest part of their partnership, and with Flatt after that, and to be clear, he was that good, too.

I shared this with my cousin and encountered a form of class prejudice then foreign to me.  Still, I had a hunch, and at a time when I didn’t know a lot, I was onto something here.  I thank my cousin for causing me to think about this.  I figured Kreisler and Warren played the same instrument, and played it equally well. She feigned horror at the thought.  Kreisler was formally trained, and as a classical musician, yada, yada, yada.  Not just his music, but the person, couldn’t be compared to that hillbilly.

I figured Kreisler grew up playing what he heard and so did Warren. Paul Warren was from Hickman County, Tennessee, and had to swipe his dad’s fiddle and learn by listening to Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith on the Opry.  He’d whistle what he liked until he knew it in his head and hands.

Later my cousin would encounter “folk masses” at her church.  A folk music craze would put Flatt & Scruggs and Paul Warren on TV, and at Carnegie Hall.  My cousin learned better of such prejudice.  Later, I’d encounter the phenomenon of reverse snobbery from people who disdained reading music or formal training and from the people who did.

Lessons learned: beauty and genius are where they are, people can learn differently, condemnation about subjective realities is dumb and we can find lots of ways to be fools.  Let’s not.

Glad to be your pastor,



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