December is the time of year when we see “Top Ten” lists spring up in all sorts of places and for some really weird reasons:
- Film critics ten best movies lists. (Okay, that’s pretty normal.)
- Ten ridiculously expensive golden objects. (Well, if you care about such things.)
- Ten celebrities who believe in crazy conspiracy theories. (If Donald Trump doesn’t top this list, it is Fake News!)
Last year’s listing of the top posts on More to Come as selected by reader views was a hit, so we’re back for 2020. I’ve spent days with our MTC analytics team to find the top posts as selected by you, the reader. (Well, actually I spent about ten minutes because Word Press does all the work.) In the process, I discovered that we’ve broken our personal record for views in a year (even with a seven week summer hiatus) and the total number of views is up almost 75% from last year. Thank you!
The list of the top posts is split fairly evenly between music-related stories from my Saturday Soundtrack series, several history-themed posts on the relationship between places from the past and the events of 2020, and family favorites. What follows is your selection of the top posts for the year. Let’s begin with some music. And yes, you have to go all the way to the end to see what’s #1.
Saturday Soundtrack posts that cracked the top ten
During April, I asked my son Andrew, from his quarantine flat in London, to curate a selection of songs appropriate for the days leading up to Easter. Saturday Soundtrack: Holy Week was a big hit, with one reader writing “Wonderful music! I’m a fan of Byrd / Gibbons / Tallis et al. The links to Voces8 are VERY cool.” The English composer William Byrd has long been a favorite of mine as well, and in this video from the post VOCES8 sings Byrd’s double motet Ne Irascaris Domine and Civitas Sancti Tui. The Catholic Byrd wrote these motets in the 1580s as a protest against the Elizabethan Catholic persecutions, and the text refers to the Babylonian captivity of the Jews.
The second musical post to make the top ten — Saturday Soundtrack: Lift Every Voice and Sing — was written in honor of Juneteenth, when I celebrated the song known as the “Black National Anthem.” I came to Lift Every Voice and Sing later in life. But when I did I had the privilege of learning the song and its history directly from one of the foremost scholars in African American gospel music, the late Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer. I was fortunate to be a part of a group that he led in his week-long workshop on African American gospel music. It was life-changing.
In a recording uploaded in the midst of the pandemic, with the heightened focus on racial injustice, and during the celebration of Juneteenth, Nicole Heaston gathered 65 Black opera singers accompanied by Kevin J. Miller and conducted by Damien Sneed to sing Roland Carter’s arrangement of the Black National Anthem. It is an inspiring version, and I remind you to stand up during the national anthem!
The top-rated post from the music category in 2020 featured American icon and national treasure Mavis Staples. Saturday Soundtrack: Mavis Staples was posted in celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, and readers kept coming back to this post throughout the year. That’s no surprise since I include such wonderful music as Oh Happy Day with Mavis and Aretha Franklin, which brings together two of the greatest and most powerful Soul and Rhythm & Blues voices not just of their generation, but of all time. (Check out the interplay at about the 1:50 segment and then again at 4:00. Good gawd!)
Family and friends
Saturday Soundtrack: Andrew Bearden Brown could fit in either the music or family and friends category, so I’ll use it to bridge the two. Our own Andrew Bearden Brown was recently featured as part of the Baltimore concert series Music at Emmanuel in the program Dream & Escape. With works by Samuel Barber, Mozart, and Gerald Finzi, the program was inspired by the vivid and strange dreams many of us were experiencing at the beginning of the lockdown.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was involved in a wonderful musical community in the Shenandoah Valley. One of the dear friends I made during that time was the organ builder John Boody. When John saw this post he wrote:
“Our very own son whom we love so very much. He made me weep. He has a sweet and ringing bell. He has a wonderful confidence and handsome in all respects. Bravo.”
I thought it was pretty wonderful as well, so I’m glad it made the top ten!
Rest in Peace, The Rev. John D. Lane was a tribute I wrote on the passing of a dear family friend, our former rector, and Andrew’s godfather. John touched our lives in so many ways, and we were fortunate to spend time with John, his wife Bizzy, and daughter Mary during the last months of his life as he was in D.C. and Baltimore for treatments. There’s a lot to say about John’s life, so go read the post.
The perennial favorite Our year in photos — 2020 made the list again this year, as I chronicled life in the Brown family during the year of the pandemic. It has everything from a Zoom Mother’s Day brunch to the securing of the ever elusive rolls of toilet paper. You just have to go and see for yourself.
The times we live in
Babe Ruth and the creation of the modern celebrity would normally be seen as either a sports or book-related post, but I think what drove reader interest in this book review was the way I discussed how Babe Ruth paved the way for people like Donald Trump. I couldn’t help but think of the current occupant of the White House when reading Leavy’s description that “Ruth’s relationship with New York’s sporting press was cozy, complex, and complicit.” One sportswriter of the era said Ruth had more talent for staying on the front page than your average earthquake. Sound like anyone we know? But Ruth produced in his chosen field: on the baseball diamond. As he said in a different context, when asked about making a higher salary than the president, “I know, but I had a better year than Hoover.”
Let’s stop celebrating a past that never existed. Instead let’s understand and honor the one that did. During October, I wrote six articles on how history and the places where history happened can help us understand the issues we are facing as a country and a democracy.* This was the first in the series, which I began by telling how I first stood at Jamestown as a history-enthralled 11-year-old. The picture of the 17th century ruin of the church tower, abutted to the 1907 Memorial Church, is seared in my mind.
While I didn’t know it at the time, the narratives of life in early 17th century Virginia — told by the guides, the plaques that lined the walls of the 1907 church, and the books I devoured — were incomplete and sometimes egregiously false. White Christian Europeans were the focus. However, those Europeans were not home. They were the outsiders. Yet we are still fighting over how to interpret their presence in what would become Virginia.
Patriotism as I envision it involves a willingness to examine, rather than paper over, the troubles in our past. My stories of the places from my history — coming from my very privileged status in the South as a straight, white, Christian, male — celebrate both triumphs and difficulties. But I write them out of a spirit of hope. Hope that is grounded in memory. When we make the choice to hope, refuse to paper over our troubles, and go down into our figurative basements to work on the often hidden issues that divide us as a country, perhaps then we can move beyond a celebration of a past that never existed and begin understanding and honoring the past that did.
Early in my preservation career, I was privileged to serve five years as the executive director of Virginia’s Historic Staunton Foundation. Just as we like to return to this gem of a community, visionary leadership has made Staunton a year-round destination for tens-of-thousands of visitors annually and has generated national recognition for the city, including more than forty awards and accolades for its historic downtown from national organizations and media in the past ten years. Great communities don’t remain that way by chance recounts the city’s recent battles over Augusta County’s plan to demolish seven historic buildings in the downtown around the historic courthouse. The post — which reached the #2 spot in the top ten list — includes my letter on the issue to the Staunton City Council. At last report, negotiations are underway to modify the plan.
Which brings me to the #1 post, in terms of reader views, in 2020.
Places and perspective was written this past summer in the midst of the controversy over Confederate memorials. It is a personal take which includes the story of my journey on this issue, beginning with a pick-up basketball game.
I had a pretty idyllic childhood, and Murfreesboro’s history — which was very real and very present to me as a child — is one reason. It was also a history that challenged me as I grew older, and continues to challenge me today. I am challenged by the fact that I could look at places such as the county courthouse and the Johnny Reb statue that stood guard there and not give much thought to how others — like my African American teammates on that basketball court — reacted to the messages and symbolism.
When the editors of Business Week named Murfreesboro as one of the great places to raise a family in 2008, I wonder how much thought they gave to what it feels like to raise a child in a community where the seat of government is still guarded by a symbol of the soldiers who fought to keep one class of citizens enslaved. Did they think about how, a century later, white men still felt it was okay to spit on black children? Did they consider the ingrained racial injustices in our communities, systemic injustices that we are now facing following the death of George Floyd and so many others? I look at controversies over Confederate statues and consider how I would respond if I was in the minority, beyond for just an hour or so on a blacktop basketball court.
I’ll admit that it took me too long to come to this conclusion, but like other preservationists, I “support the removal of Confederate monuments from our public spaces when they continue to serve the purposes for which many were built — to glorify, promote, and reinforce white supremacy, overtly or implicitly.”
We more than owe that to our fellow citizens who have walked in the suffocating shadow of Johnny Reb for far too long.
It is a long post that clearly had some resonance back in June, and I suspect it may still resonate today.
And that’s the “Best of the blog” with our top ten posts from 2020. I hope you find something in these posts that makes you think, smile, laugh, cry, or love.
Have a wonderful week, and thanks so much for reading.
More to come…
Image of Rosenborg Castle by Claire Holsey Brown
*Besides this story of revealed history beginning with Jamestown, you can find posts on the use of misinformation, wrongful imprisonment and racial violence, religious liberty, and voter suppression, in addition to a book review on how democracies die by clicking on the links.