07 Jul Trish Pearson’s Fourth of July Address

When Cannie asked me to make the speech commemorating the Fourth of July celebration, I began thinking about all the things I know, or think I know about the USA. I thought about the history of the people who lived on this land before the Europeans arrived, the influence of those Europeans on all the events that followed, all the ways our history is connected to the broader world and its complexity. Certainly I knew that you would not want to listen to a long history lesson in the middle of your camp summer. (I’m going to give you one anyway, but it will be brief!) So I started thinking about what my country means to me, what makes me proud to be a citizen and a representative of the United States.

As a history and geography teacher during the rest of the year, I teach the importance of culture. If you have studied world cultures, you know that they are not static, they spread and change and merge together. One aspect of culture that I want to spend a few minutes talking about today is music, specifically jazz music. That may seem unusual on the Fourth of July when you might expect to hear or sing the National Anthem or “America the Beautiful” or even “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Jazz may not seem like patriotic music to you at first glance.

Jazz grew out of a uniquely American experience. Its roots lie in both Africa and Europe, but it was born in America. Traditional African music, brought primarily by the slaves who came to the United States with nothing except their culture, Jazz got the pentatonic scale, rhythm and beat, call and response, the use of different kinds of voices. In traditional African music, there was no “perfect” sound. European music influenced Jazz with its concepts of the use of instruments and harmony.

Where did all these things come together? The birthplace of Jazz is New Orleans, a uniquely American city. Immigrants from many cultures had come to live in this important trading city that was shaped by its geography. New Orleans belonged to France and to Spain before becoming part of the United States and it provided the perfect place for a new form of music that was the essence of America to be developed.

So, what does all this have to do with the Fourth of July and why does Jazz make me proud to be an American? Jazz exemplifies what I treasure about America. It represents freedom, ingenuity and innovation by individual musicians. However, exceptional and brilliant individual solos can happen only out of a foundation of cooperation and practice — the hard work that is done toward a common purpose. Jazz by its very nature represents diversity and tolerance. It could have only been created in a society composed of people who shared and appreciated the differences among them.

As we celebrate today, and as you leave camp and go back to your life as it is the “other 10 months of the year”, I encourage you to think about what you treasure about your country. Continue to learn and explore the history of our country and our connections to the global community. Ask questions and question the answers you are given. Find a way to connect to your country in a meaningful way. Find out what it means to be a good citizen and dedicate yourself to promoting the ideals of America.

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