A Tale of Two Concerts Print
By Anthony Esolen   
Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Last summer, at the insistence of a good Catholic friend, my daughter and I drove to a small village in Cape Breton, to attend a Celtic music festival.

Don’t imagine glitter. The festival was held in a big green field behind a Catholic church. There were benches, but most people had brought lawn chairs or towels, or were standing, about 4,000 in all, quite a crowd for a place far in the countryside. 

All kinds of people were there, old and young, men and women, kids running around, carpenters, fishermen, farmers, local musicians and step-dancers, and at least one professor – me. Everyone eagerly waited for the star performers. They had arrived overnight, driving 800 miles from a previous engagement in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in a van big enough to transport the band, equipment, and four children.

The stars were Natalie MacMaster, who some believe to be the finest Celtic fiddler in the world, and her husband Donnell Leahy, also a phenomenal musician, with their accompanists and their children – and their faith, their traditions, and their devotion to the land where they were born. 

For it was a homecoming. When they greeted the crowd, they remembered with love the good priest who married them in that same church, whose body now lay in the cemetery beside the field. I sat beside Natalie’s brother, Kevin, who regaled me with family lore, of MacMasters and Leahys, most of whom do other things besides playing music to put bread on the table, but who get together as families on an evening to play Celtic music, long into the night. It seems that the children take up one instrument or another.

There were children – the sweetest thing of all. After Natalie and Donnell made the hills sing with music, they retreated, and, one after another, their children and their cousins came out, step dancing. They would call out a name, and a child would appear – first three teenage girls, almost young women, then five boys in a row, then a scattering of boys and girls down to the youngest, a little girl who had to be held by both hands as she toddled on stage and did a step or two. 

Each child danced a little differently, one or two of the boys making the crowd laugh with boy-antics, and as each came forth, from tallest to smallest, the people applauded and whistled, louder and louder, until with that last baby girl there was nothing but delight and merriment.

The girls wore skirts, the boys wore white shirts and black ties; and they all looked like cousins. They shared the same blood, the same home, the same history, the same faith. Every element in the scene was in its place. There was the land, to which Natalie and Donnell are still devoted. There were the neighbors, the other families whose histories accompanied their own family history for generations. 

There was the church, to whom everyone belonged – or should have belonged; and the memories of people no longer with them, memories ready to be stirred by a glance towards the churchyard near. There was the warm faith of the great musicians, and the vault of the sky above, deepening into a sapphire blue in the twilight of a northern summer evening. 

 
      Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster 

What I beheld that night was culture, in its full and true sense. I don’t know how long it will last, even in that backwoods village in Nova Scotia. Even there, the agents of anticulture have been doing their work – television penetrates, and schools operate under government-mandated curricula. 

Even there, men and women are forgetting to marry, and are raising such few children as are born, outside of the haven of wedded love. People in charge of tourism in Cape Breton have touted the old Celtic music, and there’s a school or two where you can learn it, and even some of the old language. I’m told that there are more speakers of Gaelic in that part of the world than there are in Scotland itself. 

And yet, a school here and a program there do not a culture make. Everything at that concert, those things and they alone make for a culture. And only in a field of faith, where even hearty merriment is duly ordered to our worship of God, and giving Him thanks.

And everything present there, as I considered the matter later, the sexual revolution would destroy: family, community, traditions, faith. For it would drive men and women apart. It would kill children in the womb. It would take away most of the cousins. 

It would sow transience and infidelity at the heart of the nearest human relations and found marriage upon the sands of appetite. It would first turn the human heart away from God, and toward the flesh; and then it would harden the heart against even the goodness and holiness of the human body.

What would it put in that concert’s place? The halftime show at the Super Bowl perhaps. It is almost absurd to complain when the show features a moment of shocking vulgarity. For years, the show has been vulgar from start to finish.  

It is vulgar in its noise, garish lights, prinked up entertainers, and massive celebration of egotism. There is nothing sweet, nothing meek, nothing gentle, nothing to move the heart, nothing to open the mind; no quiet show of talent, no spirit of giving, no humility, no memory, no honor, no devotion, no kindness – not even the merry earthiness of a bawdy joke. It is all crass, harsh, and bitter. 

That is where we have come. The decadent inhabitants of the great city of Rome became people who enjoyed the blood of gladiatorial combats. We have become the sorts of people who enjoy, if that’s the right word, the incessant howl of selfishness. How can it be otherwise, when we have degraded love itself, in the most intimate embrace of man and woman?

 
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College. 
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

 

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