While I did not know her well, I had occasional opportunities to chat with her over the years since she started participating in Sacred Harp singing after she started dating her husband Tim Eriksen. I have seen her on three occasions in the past year: last summer at the presentation of Sacred Harp singing on the main stage of the Newport Folk Festival; last fall at the New England Sacred Harp Singing Convention in Kingston, RI; and this past March at the Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Singing Convention.
I set out for Greenfield shortly after 7:30am after picking up 2 passengers, my friends Harriotte and Richard. I've known Richard since the late 1980's, when we met at a Sacred Harp convention somewhere in the northeastern US. Richard retired several years ago and moved to Boston from Brooklyn, NY; we sing Sacred Harp together regularly in the Boston area, and occasionally travel together to out-of-town singings and conventions. I met Harriotte perhaps 5 years ago in a completely separate context, but we have discovered that we have many mutual friends and acquaintances, including Minja and Tim; Harriotte is also an ethnomusicologist who has been studying at Wesleyan University on and off since the mid-1970's, and she is also good friends with Neely Bruce, who was the chairman of the first New England Sacred Harp Singing Convention in 1976, the first Sacred Harp Singing Convention outside of the Southeastern US.
We made good time to Greenfield in spite of the rain that started halfway there, and we arrived shortly after 9:30am. A team of local Sacred Harp singers and friends were already hard at work setting up the building for the day's events: setting up chairs in the hollow square in the upstairs hall, arranging tables to set up dinner downstairs, directing people where to leave food, supplies of loaner copies of the Sacred Harp tunebook, how to find facilities, and all the other logistics of an event for 200 attendees. More and more people continued to arrive; singers I've known for years, singers who I had never met before but whose names I knew from singers mailing lists, Balkan musicians and dancers, and other friends and family of Minja's and Tim's. And they came from everywhere; from all over the northeastern US, from Minnesota, from the west coast, from Canada, and from Europe. Several Minnesota friends of unzeugmatic's came, including Martha H., Denise K. and her daughter, and Jim P. Other singers from far away include Jessica B. of Oregon and Scott & Jeanette deP. of Georgia.
Minja and Tim's friend Peter Irvine called the assembly to order at about 10:15 by asking us to sing the tune HOLY MANNA (Sacred Harp p. 59). This tune frequently serves as the first tune of the day at a Sacred Harp convention or all-day singing. After asking the assembly to stand for a minute of silence and meditation, and then making a few announcements, he turned the assembly over to Eliza Cavanaugh and Linda Shea, who functioned as the arranging committee for the next two hours, appointing a series of individuals and small groups to select a tune and lead it. The choices of tune and text ran the gamut from slow to fast and mournful to joyful. At about 12:15 Peter dismissed the assembly for dinner, which was waiting spread out on several tables downstairs.
At about 1:30, a Balkan brass band from New York City, comprised of people who knew Minja, called the assembly back upstairs by playing a couple of instrumental pieces. And over the next two hours a series of people took turns sharing stories of Minja, of how they knew her, of how they remember her, and of the lesson they chose to take from having known her. We laughed, we cried, we sighed in recognition, and we each learned a little more of who Minja was for us.
And then we danced, as the band played and sang the music of Minja's homeland.
Shortly before 4pm, we gathered together in the middle of the hall, all facing inward towards time, and sang Neely Bruce's tune MILLBROOK, which sets these 4 verses from Old Baptist Hymnal, #1158:
How long, thou faithful God, shall I
Here in thy ways forgotten lie?
When shall the means of healing be
The channels of thy grace to me?
Sinners on every side step in,
And wash away their pain and sin;
But I, a helpless sinsick soul,
still lie expiring at the pool.
Thou cov'nant Angel, swift come down,
Today thine own appointments crown;
Thy pow'r into the means infuse,
And give them now their sacred use.
Thou seest me lying at the pool,
I would, thou know'st, I would be whole;
O let the troubled waters move,
And minister thy healing love.
We started cleaning up the hall, making it ready for the contra dance that would start at 8pm. Harriotte left in the company of a Wesleyan colleague, while Richard and I loaded the back of my station wagon with several containers of leftover food and drink from dinner, which we took with us to the home of Laura T., the host of the evening's social, in the neighboring town of Leyden (pronounced LIE-den). And there I discovered even more connections between people, in particular Martha and Dick F., the editors of Folk Dancing 'Round Boston, a paper and web listing of local folk dance events sponsored by the Folk Arts Center of New England. For several years I have been responsible for sending listing information for the local gender-role-free contra dance series to Martha for the newsletter, yet I had never met either Martha or Dick in person before. She recognized my name, and asked whether I was the same person.
Richard and I set out for home at about 7:30. After dropping Richard off at the home of his friend Wendy in Maynard, I arrived home shortly before 10pm, ready to spend a few minutes talking with the BF before climbing into bed.