Thursday, April 16, 2020

Joshua Fit the Battle

My “interview” to get hired as the first music teacher of The San Francisco School was camping with the upper-elementary kids. For seven days. It was the Spring of 1975 and the place was a parent’s land in Feather Falls, California. We dug latrines, set up tents, created a cooking area with Coleman stoves and got ready for a week of hiking, swimming in the pond, playing games and generally hanging around in company with sky, stars, pines and waterfalls. 

Naturally, there was an evening campfire and for my “interview” process, I was invited to lead a song or two. So that first night, I led a folk song from Arkansas called the “Hound Dog Song,” with all joining in on the chorus:

Every time I go downtown.
Somebody’s kickin’ my dawg around.
It makes no difference that he’s a hound.
They shouldn’t be kickin’ my dawg around.

The next morning, Josh, one of the 6thgraders and all-around-coolest-kid, came up to me and asked if I was going to lead any more songs that night. Thinking he loved it and was anxious for more, I enthusiastically replied, “Yes!” And then got taken down five pegs when he said:

“Could you sing something a little less corny?”

Aargh, the honesty of children! And now I was worried! I had failed my first test. So I thought long and hard and remembered a song that was a bit more rhythmic and bluesy and had Josh’s name in it. So the next night, off we went with:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
And the walls came tumbling down.

When it was over, I looked over at Josh and he gave me a thumbs-up. Yes!!! I passed!

And so they offered me the job (did it help that Josh’s mother was the Board Chair?) and now 45 years and some 8,000 Singing Times later, I finally decided to complete a long-overdue project—The San Francisco School Songbook! Hunkered down at home during the school’s “Spring break,” what better time to have a project that connects all the days and lifts the 20-year cloud that has hung over my head? Not only satisfying in its concreteness—“today I’ll do all the song from A to C”—but lovely to sing the songs again in my head while typing out the lyrics and remembering some specific stories associated with them— Phoebe Lockwood’s signature writing of the first verse of “Casey Jones “ on the big song-sheet, Nate’s constant distraction in Singing Time brought to focus everytime we sang the words “Wabash Cannonball,” my own daughter Kerala’s dance she performed to “The Barnyard Dance” and so on.

And so yesterday, I finished the words to the 179thsong and was looking for the perfect last song (180 is 4 times the 45 years I’ve sung at school). Not a single human being on the planet cared about what that last song was going to be, but because of the way my ritualistic mind is put together and my lifelong obsession with meaning, I wanted it to be a special one. And lo and behold, there it was! “Joshua Fit the Battle.” As it was in the beginning, so it is at the end. Josh is now 57 years old, I’m no spring chicken, but still I sing with children and though it appears that the last official Singing Time at school was on Friday, March 16th, ending appropriately in my mythological universe with “Side by Side,” still I hope that the echoes will keep sounding and that this school songbook will help keep it all alive. And also fitting that Joshua is about music toppling walls and helping win the age-old battle between good and evil. 

So there you have it. Today will be my third online alum sing and I believe I’ll include this song. 

PS “Fit” is the approximation of the proper accent in this style to sing the word “fought.”
Just in case you were wondering. 

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