The Honor of the Ryman

February 27, 2010 (Sophomore year) – Help Haiti Benefit Concert: Alison Krausse & Union Station, Amy Grant, Big Kenny, Mat Kearney, Jars of Clay, Rebecca St. James, NEEDTOBREATHE, Brandon Heath 

“I’m so glad everyone could make it to the show tonight to help out all of the victims from the earthquake in Haiti. You know, this place has housed such amazing talent on this stage that I’m so honored simply to be here and especially to have the opportunity to play here to help raise money for all of those in need….”

October 8, 2010 (Junior year) – Sara Bareilles

“So I’m going to play one of the songs off of my new album and if you know the words feel free to sing along. Although this being Nashville, don’t sing too well or everyone is going to start wondering how it is that managed to wind up on this stage where so many incredible people have played before me…”  (crowd laughs)

October 17, 2011 (Senior year) – Goo Goo Dolls

“Hello!” (crowd screams) “How is everyone doing out there tonight?” (more screams) You know, even though we’ve played here before, there is just always something about playing here at the Ryman. It’s so good to be back. Walking on this stage, you get this crazy feeling thinking about all the other people that have played here before. Plus, I really have to watch what I say because I’m pretty sure this building actually used to be a church.” (crowd laughs)

As a kid growing up in Texas, it felt like everyone around me listened to and appreciated country music. It was part of the culture where I lived and seemed to make its way into my life in a variety of different ways. When I was in fourth grade, our entire class was taught to square dance and then forced to perform our elementary renditions of traditional country dances to our parents. By age fifteen it was a social requirement that everyone owned a pair of cowboy boots and for two weeks every March it seemed like all of Houston would walk into work or school each morning looking more haggard than usual, as they had been out late listening to country stars at the rodeo the night before.

It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville, however, that I learned that Texas was, in fact, not the birthplace of country music. Nashville was. And as I now know, with very good reason. Home to many stars, both past and present, Nashville is also the location of one of the most incredible music venues complete with some of the finest acoustics in the world. Since my sophomore year, I have attended one concert each year at this historical site known as the Ryman Auditorium. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have attended at the Ryman, something interesting always struck me about it: I never understand why everyone I had ever heard play on that stage felt that having the opportunity to play there topped nearly all of their greatest accomplishments as a performer. Having now taken the History of Country Music and recently toured the Ryman Auditorium, I now understand the history behind the great honor so many musicians feel the moment they step on that stage.

The building now known as the Ryman Auditorium was built in 1892 as a tabernacle for a man named Reverand Sam Jones. Originally named the Union Gospel Tabernacle, Thomas G. Ryman wished to construct this building as a way to thank Reverand Jones for leading him to salvation. Tom Ryman wanted a building that was capable of projecting Rev. Jones’s voice clearly for all to hear and after Ryman’s death in1904, the building was renamed in honor of him for establishing such a Nashville landmark. As the largest structure in the area, the building soon became a popular site for community events, entertainment, and political rallies. A stage was installed for the Metropolitan opera and over time the stage was graced by greats such as Ignacy Paderewski, Roy Rogers, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Mae West, president Theodore Roosevelt, and many others. Because of these performers, it eventually began to be called the “Carnegie Hall of the South.”

In 1943 the Ryman also became home to a radio show created by George D. Hay that would become an international phenomenon known as the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next thirty-one years, legends such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, and Roy Acuff performed on the Ryman’s stage. Eventually dubbed, “The Mother Church of Country Music” by Nashvillians, the Ryman also became the birthplace of Bluegrass music in 1945 with Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe. Even after the opry relocated in 1974, the Ryman continued to attract fans from around the world, simply to hear people play in a place so hallowed and famous. In 1994, $8.5 million were spent in order to renovate the Ryman and bring it back to its former glory days as well as update it with the latest technology and modern comforts, such as air conditioning and dressing rooms. Since then, the Ryman has continued to host incredible talent such as Aretha Franklin, Neil Young, and Robert Earl Keen.

Now, much more aware of the history the walls of this place bare, I too feel honored simply to sit in one of its wooden church pews and look towards a stage that I know once hosted Johnny Cash and Roy Acuff, among so many others. It is interesting, but knowledge of the memories of this place seems to cast a new light on my own memories and experiences within the Ryman. With these in mind, I finally understand why it is that even some of the most talented musicians feel honored to step onto such a historical stage. Now when I think back to the times I have stood within these walls and walked along the hallways to view the hatch show prints, I will likely recall these memories with greater reverence. For what I know now about the Ryman is not likely to be separated from past memories within this place. In this way, new memories compound old memories as a sense of fondness is added with the knowledge of the great history it carries.

References:

Duke, Jan. “History of the Ryman Auditorium.” About.com Nashville. Web. 10 April 2012. http://nashville.about.com/od/historyandsites/a/History-Of-The-Historic-Ryman-Auditorium.htm

“Timeline.” Ryman Auditorium. Web. 11 April 2012. http://www.ryman.com/history/

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Vanderbilt’s Trees

In Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, he claims that Istanbul “draws its strength from the Bosphorus” (47). I believe that Vanderbilt draws its strength from its trees. As a natural arboretum, Vanderbilt’s campus is filled with many diverse varieties of trees, but what I love about them the most is seeing them change with the seasons. Every time a new season overtakes Vanderbilt, the whole campus takes on a new appearance. In Fall, it is clothed in vibrant shades of red, yellow, and orange, covered in leaves and cool autumn breezes. In Winter, everything becomes dim and bare as all of the leaves fall off and a chill remains permanently in the air. Some years, a blanket of snow will also cover the laws for days at a time. This then lasts until almost overnight, it seems, the campus bursts forth in color and life as all of the trees begin to bloom and pink, white, and purple flowers cover nearly every tree on campus. While this phase is always short-lived, it is one of my favorites, until the trees turn back to green and berries take the place of the beautiful blossoms for the Summer.

There is another tree on Vanderbilt’s campus, however, that I will also never forget – The Tree of Learning. A permanent fixture on Library Lawn, it scared me enough to keep me out of the library it seems to guard for nearly the entirety of my freshman year. Never once have I understood why it is that “The Tree of Learning” looks as foreboding and ominous as I believe that it does, but looking at it now, frozen in the same spot it has stood since 1997, it strikes me that although I will graduate and time will continue to move along with all of the seasons, this tree will never change. And while I took this picture today, nothing short of changes to the library behind it will reveal roughly when this photograph was taken. So while photography freezes moments in time, it is also to think about how much that is needed to identify a photograph can be left outside the frame. Could I return and take this exact picture in twenty years? Would photography be able to show the progression of time?

The Album

An album is a collection of pictures that we put together often to memorialize a particular trip we have taken or to remember a memorable event in our lives. Until viewing Boltanski’s work, I always thought of albums as deeply personal and individual. However, upon review of many of my own albums, I have seen the very effect which Boltanski’s work attempted to exhibit – photo albums are common to everyone and the moments we capture are most often simply a reproduction of cliche´s. Above are a few photographs taken from an album I created after a six week study abroad program I attended in Santander, Spain while I was in high school. I lived with a host family (photo 4) with one of my best friends who’s name is also Caroline. While thumbing through my old photographs from this trip, I was amazed to see how cliche´many of our photographs together were. We have the classic beach picture, the picture from a bull fight, the picture of us on the bus we rode to school everyday, the picture from our trip into the mountains, etc., etc. The list really could go on as these are only a sampling of the actual album, which contains more than a hundred photographs from this trip. While I look at these images and remember the memories associated with each event, I suppose in the end Boltanski is right: in many years if someone were to look at these photographs and not know who we were, we would merely be stand-ins for anyone else to identify with our images of typical family trips and traditional poses.

The Function of a Photograph

St. Louis. I was there. Doesn’t this picture prove that? Standing within the famous St. Louis arch, I put my camera up to the glass on one of the small windows and took this picture of my view from above. But because I’m not in this picture, nor is any person for that matter, how would someone know that I actually took this picture myself and didn’t simply find it on the Internet or borrow it from a friend who had visited? This picture is my evidence that I visited this Midwest city, yet how exactly is it that a photograph without people actually garners any credibility? I could simply be using another picture to illustrate the things that I had seen. Yet, would that really matter?

I think so.

In Sebald’s stories, photographs are interspersed between the text to illustrate locations he mentions. Many of them are simple images – photos of trees and street corners and interior rooms – yet they prove to the reader that the places Sebald mentions really exist. It is interesting to discuss whether the pictures are actually Sebald’s or whether they were simply inserted with the intent of providing a visual illustration of the images Sebald paints with words. More interesting, in my opinion, however, is to think about how using someone else’s photographs to illustrate your own story changes the way an author uses photography within a story. As a photographer, you have the opportunity to select what falls within the limitations of the lens. This is done with intention and allows you the chance to focus on particular elements in a scene and leave out details you feel are insignificant. When telling a story, then, you – as the photographer and writer – can talk about the photograph in ways that no other person can. You alone know how you felt at the moment when a particular picture was taken and what was happening just outside the frame of the picture.

In Barthes text, he describes his photographs with extraordinary detail even though they are (generally) presented to the reader. This is because only he can describe the photographs with the utmost accuracy and provide background information that the reader could never know on his or her own. In Sebald’s text, however, he uses language to provide vivid descriptions and the photographs seem to come as an afterthought. He cannot tell us more about the pictures that we could surmise ourselves if he did not, in fact, actually take them. The photographs also cannot be used to highlight significant details within the story as whatever is framed within the photograph was not framed by Sebald. In no way does this reduce the significance of photography within a story, but I believe that it changes it. When photographs are merely used for evidence, they seem to only support the story, not help to create it.

Tapas and Chocolate

The white cup sitting in the middle of the plate surrounded by fruit and other treats, is filled with deep rich milk chocolate. Warmed by the candle emitting a glow across small bites of moist pound cake and thick slices of strawberries, the chocolate remains the perfect thick, yet liquid texture. Over time, however, I remember that the chocolate began to bubble as the temperature of the pot rose while its contents quickly diminished and disappeared, along with the dipping treats, into our stomachs.  My favorite combination was dipping the strawberries into the chocolate while my oldest sister preferred the bananas, and my other sister the apples and the marshmallows. We all loved the pound cake.

“There’s no way we can finish all of this,” my sister mumbled as she tried to speak through a mouth full of chocolate covered fruit. We all began to laugh because we shared her sentiment. All three of us were already so full from the extensive and exquisite selection of tapas we had eaten and the glasses of wine we had drank. The wine section is somewhat obscured on the menu lying just to the right of the plate of fondue in this photograph, but I remember the glass I ordered the first time we visited La Crema because none of us knew how to pronounce the name and laughed continuously as we each tried to pronounce the French word “Blau” of “Cellar Can Blau” and completely butchered the word with attempts such as “blah,” “blue,” and “bla-ooh” having absolutely zero knowledge of the French language between the three of us.

Looking at this picture reminds me of the standing tradition the three of us still have to visit this restaurant, La Crema, one night every time the three of us are staying in my family’s beach house. Every time these dinners happen, conversation mingles between stories from our past and current lives in a way that can only happen between sisters who share a long history together, yet no longer get to see each other on a daily basis. When I look at the warm glow from the light of the candle under the pot of chocolate, I am instantly reminded of the warmth I felt inside of me on the night the photograph was taken formed by a mixture of great food and wine, warm chocolate, and blushing cheeks caused by excited conversation and laughter. While neither of my sisters are featured in this photograph, they cannot be torn from my memory of this evening, and many other similar evenings that will continue to come as we carry on our tradition of taking time to eat tapas and chocolate together.

Athletes

Reading Perec’s sections on the island, W, have reminded me of my own days of being an athlete. While this photo is merely of my co-ed intramural soccer team from last year, I actually played competitive soccer for thirteen years before college. Being a soccer player was part of my identity and took up an enormous portion of my time on a daily basis. Playing at such a competitive level for such a long time taught me many different things over the years, but some of the most important values include persistence, dedication, and responsibility. I also learned how important it is to be a team player, win and lose graciously, and maintain balance in life.

While Perec’s discussion of W certainly demonstrates a life centered on sports and competition, I find nearly all of these important values to be missing on this island. He talks of winners mocking losers into completing humiliating and painful runs wearing their shoes backwards on their feet. He suggests that winning is desired at any price and that the weak are intentionally singled out from the strong. In addition, he suggests that athletes are incapable of maintaining responsible behavior when faced with the temptation of gorging themselves on a winner’s buffet, thus maintaining that “athletes almost never win twice in a row” (92). I could not disagree more with the ideals associated with this athletic island of competition. In addition, I find that it undermines the tremendous character found in so many athletes I know. Winning is often the end goal, yes, but not at any price and certainly not only for a day at a time. Winning championships takes great responsibility and dedication and athletes cannot lose focus after winning one single game, as Perec’s athletes appear to on W. I’ve struggled to fit in the sections concerning the W with the other portions of this novel and the tone of these sections is extremely bothersome to me. What is Perec getting at by insinuating such a harsh and unrealistic culture of competition? How does this fit in with his own life experiences? Did his experiences skiing not contradict what he writes about life on W? These are questions which have been sparked within me as I have read.

Frozen Distortion

“Slow motion not only reveals familiar aspects of movements, but discloses quite unknown aspects within them—aspects ‘which do not appear as the retarding of natural movements but have a curious gliding, floating character of their own.’” (117)

Although I took this picture this past summer, it stands out to me as exactly the kind of “dynamite split second” Benjamin is referencing in The Work of Art in the Age of Reproducibility (117). To me, looking at this photograph of “The Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park is extremely different than my experience of seeing “The Bean” in person, even though I am the one who took this picture. When I saw “The Bean” for the first time, I was so overwhelmed with its powers of distortion, that when I looked up at the metal ceiling, while standing underneath the structure, I failed to see anything other than my own distorted reflection and various blurs of color, representative of other people walking by. Even the tiniest of movements changed what the structure reflected, which amounted to a constantly changing image being painted against the ceiling every hundredth of a second.

I snapped a photo of my view from below, mostly in order to remember my visit to the park, but later I found viewing the picture to be extraordinarily interesting. The swirls of color I remember seeing where not at all pictured, but instead, multitudes of individuals stood reflected in “The Bean” – forever frozen wherever they happened to be standing at the exact moment in time I chose to take my picture. While I could not distinguish individuals in the reflection of “The Bean” in real time, my camera, “with all its resources for swooping and rising, disrupting and isolating, stretching or compressing a sequence, enlarging or reducing an object,” was capable of capturing a split second in which motion stood still and reflections were not just blurs of color, but real people (117). While it is difficult to distinguish facial features of the individuals because of their size in the photograph, I know that they actually exist. Without this photograph to remind me of this truth, I likely would have remembered my experience of looking into “The Bean” as seeing my own reflection amidst a swirl of color in motion and distortion at its finest.