The Massachusetts story you missed

By Chuck Sigars | Apr 24, 2013

I’ve told several people lately that Boston had curiously been on my mind the past few weeks. This is not all that surprising; it was around this time of year, in 2008, that I made my first trip there.

My daughter and her husband had recently moved to the East Coast, so a trip was due, but then: I’m a lover of American history, and Boston is where it began. It struck me on that first visit, in fact, that in many ways it belongs to all of us.

From wherever we come, whatever our histories and cultures and backgrounds, in some way we all carry Boston in our DNA.

The comparison to the Pacific Northwest struck me, too. Having lived here for 30 years, and in this particular neighborhood for 25, I’m used to recognizing change and also consistency.

I spotted a fast food restaurant the other day that I pointed out to my son had been there since at least 1985, imagine that.

On the other hand, in Boston you can walk by Paul Revere’s house on your way to work. There’s a difference, then.

I have no special privilege, of course, to feel more horror than anyone else at the Boston Marathon bombings. I just the knew the area, remembered how it felt to walk those streets, recognized the neighborhoods as they were locked down in a massive search for the monsters who killed and maimed.

I’m also not alone in noting the heroism of the people of Boston, the first responders, the witnesses, law enforcement and trauma surgeons.

It’s definitely the historical romantic in me, but I like to think that the descendants of Concord and Lexington have long memories as well as funny accents, and upon witnessing an act of terrorism they did a remarkable thing: They decided not to be terrorized.

There are other comments that could be made, and already have been. Not a television news watcher anymore, I was struck by some of the vapidity, the compulsion to fill dead air with speculation that often contained misinformation, as if any news, even unsubstantiated, was worthy of mentioning, but again: This has all been discussed, and will continue to be.

And we’ll talk about motives, and meaning, justice and prevention. This is a big story with long legs, and it will be at the forefront of our community consciousness for a long time to come.

Once again, you know all this. I have nothing new to add. I’m just a fan of the city, and now its citizens. I note heroism, and hope I would have a fraction of the same, were I in a similar situation.

I share the sorrow over lives lost and injured, and the hope that justice will be served. I’m grateful for the Internet, so I could turn off the talking heads and read actual information from actual people who knew actual things.

But I knew no one in the area, no one injured or involved, so I just watched, hoped and was grateful for the end result, such as it was, when the second suspect was captured alive, hiding like the coward he surely is.

I do have a story, though.

It’s one you almost certainly missed, in fact, but it’s still a good one, and this time it’s personal.

West of Boston, in Berkshire County, Brad Wells, a professor on the voice faculty at Williams College, formed an unusual group of singers, called Roomful of Teeth.

Eight professional, remarkable singers make up this a cappella group, exploring nontraditional vocal techniques with a classical flair, including yodeling and Tuvan throat singing.

They were artists in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and last year they released their debut CD on New Amsterdam Records, to wide critical acclaim.

It’s different music, stunning and amazing and lovely, and of course I have a personal bias: One of the octet is my son-in-law, Cameron Beauchamp. As each glowing review came in, we celebrated in this house, and gave CDs to our friends.

A variety of composers have written material for Roomful of Teeth, and the singers were also offered the opportunity to compose if they wished.

One of them, Caroline Shaw, over the course of three years, wrote “Partita For Eight Voices,” a four-piece vocal suite that is on the CD.

Ms. Shaw is 30, and for most of her young life was known primarily as a violinist, and then as a singer with Roomful of Teeth. In 2010 she began doctoral work in composition at Princeton, although few people seemed aware that she actually wrote music.

And on the morning of the Boston bombings, a few hours before the terror began, Caroline Shaw won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, the youngest recipient ever, for “Partita.”

As I said, this is personal. It can’t compare with magnitude of what happened at the finish line in Boston, or the earthquake in China, or the fire in West, Texas. It was a bad week, “twitchy,” as a friend put it, as we waited for another shoe to drop. Not a good shoe.

But as the Boston bravery and suffering demonstrated, there are all sorts of stories. It was an odd day for us here, then, horror and joy, blood and music.

I expect the same could be said of many days, but not for us, not quite like that Monday, when runners stumbled and one young woman soared.

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