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Remembrance, And Thoughts On Ethnic Music
By Mick Polich - 11/17/2009 - 09:37 AM EST

My aunt Adele passed away a few days ago – she was 99.

Pretty incredible woman – Iowa farm wife, raised three kids, and took the spirit of the old country – Lebanon – and brought it into our families’ lives continually for many, many years every holiday, thru the Old – World dishes of stuffed grape leaves, zucchini, and flat breads. She did this until she couldn’t do it any more – but what a gift of love and remembrance.

She was a sage, too, boy, in that Midwest way – humble but direct, ‘straight talk’ as U.S. president Harry Truman used to say. Whenever any of us would gripe and moan about our current lot in life, her advice was,” Well, do you want the alternative?”, meaning death, of course. A little woman, but with strong ideals, love, fairness, and simplicity – she would set you straight.

I’ve mentioned before about some of the ethnic records my family would pull out to play for us from time to time, and I’ll pull a few stories out again for this occasion. My Aunt Boots has a Victrola box, which plays old 78 rpm records. The Victrola is stored in a walk-in attic up on the top floor of the farm house north of Des Moines where she, Aunt Adele, and the rest of their brothers and sisters grew up. This machine came in at the dawn of the business of producing and selling recorded music – the primitive ( although quite modern at the time) invention that’s led us to what we know today in downloads and the soon-to-fade CD. I used to spot the Victrola on many occasions – grabbing chairs out of the attic, to take downstairs for our huge family gatherings for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and just sneaking a peek when I could to marvel at what the hell this machine was,…….. and how did it work? What did my family have from their history for music? I still wonder.  

Anyway, years ago, when Aunt Adele’s husband, Uncle Eddie, was alive, those two celebrated a wedding anniversary (I want to say 50 years, not sure, but hey, for the sake of a good story, I will…). They had the party in the basement of All Saints School, which is the K – 8th grade school we all went to before they split the girls and the boys at 9th grade – girls went to St. Joseph’s, and the boys went to Dowling. You have to keep those ‘urges’ under control, the Catholic diocese thought, so better keep the masses separated when the hormones kicked in(now, it’s just one school – Dowling. Kids are gonna do what kids are gonna, right? Sure – ask me again in awhile with my 10 year-old son….).

Now, you’ve got to remember – Midwesterners celebrated and relaxed very little because there was always work to be done – you did your job at Firestone or John Deere, plowed the fields and tended your crops, and then, did it all over again the next day. You went to church, congregated, and counted your blessings, pal. Count some beers and card games at the local V.F.W., or if you’re lucky, a round of golf, and that was living, mister. It just was, you know? But when it was time to party, it was time to PARTY.

We had many celebrations and wedding receptions in that basement, but it was special to me for a couple of reasons. I never saw my aunt and uncle cut loose until this day. They had fun, and were pretty humorous at times, but this was something else. Now, here’s my thinking of the memory – someone had gotten a hold of a Victrola (maybe the one from the farm, or maybe this one was from Adele and Eddie’s farm????), and had it set up in the church basement for the party. I could be way off, but my old mandate of never letting fudging a few facts for a good story can hold here. Well, suddenly, they fired up the old machine, and out of the speaker comes what I can best describe as ethnic music. I put two and two together quickly, and think,” Wow, is this Lebanese music, from the old country? Maybe it’s Arabian music?” Nope, it was Lebanese. My Uncle Ed was into the dance steps - sort of a half-circle thing they would work around. Boy,Uncle Ed was a character,too –  one of the funniest, most honest,hardest workng guys around - full of farm axioms and spunk, loved his cigars (and was never seemingly without one on hand, EVER), and was farming up to the day that he died in 1998.

 While the music was playing, I see my Uncle Eddie take Aunt Adele’s hand, and they start to dance, not unlike the way everyone seems to attribute to the Greeks, and their dancing styles. Wow, they can dance (this runs thru my incredulous, young mind)!

This was amazing because, one, in my young mind, us kids had the corner market on dancing - old people just didn’t dance!

But they did, and my aunt and uncle were celebrating their marriage by dancing to the music of their heritage and youth. Chalk up another life lesson for you, Polich……

That moment left an impression because, more or less, it defined my lineage of who I was, and what I was becoming as a person, an artist, and a musician. It’s in the blood, because I’ve always enjoyed odd – metered music, modal tones and melodies, and have sampled ethnic music from all over the world in my CD collection..

Now, the cross-hybrids of music styles that come out of Lebanon are diverse, and bountiful – there has been Lebanese metal, pop, electronica, jazz, and dance club music that draws from the rich heritage of many centuries of Middle Eastern culture.

As artists, as musicians, our receptors are an open book to the events in our lives. I feel extremely fortunate, especially now as I look around and see a few folks that didn’t have bountiful childhoods – you either live thru it, and move on, or don’t. But I was lucky – damn lucky – and it sometimes takes moments like this to see your fortune. I can draw on so much for my art and music – well, that’s the way it should be,right?

God bless you, Aunt Adele, and thanks for all your gifts to all in our family!

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