Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Gales of November Come Early

Today marks 32 years since the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, an event made more memorable than it otherwise might have been because of a hit single released a year later, Gordon Lightfoot's ballad "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

The Detroit News notes today:

The 29 sailors who died when the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975 will be remembered at 6 p.m. Saturday at Henri Belanger Park near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse.

A mail boat will take a wreath out to the Detroit River, lanterns will be lit, plaques will be on display and bagpipes will play for the ceremony. A bell will toll for each sailor.

* * *

The ship broke into two pieces and sank in November 1975 during a violent storm on Lake Superior as the ship sailed to Detroit. River Rouge is hosting a memorial because the ship's maiden voyage was from the city in 1958.
On this anniversary, a community theater group in Manitowoc, Wisconsin (a city on Lake Michigan, for the geographically-challenged) will open a new production of a play about the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy.

According to the Manitowoc Herald:
Exactly 32 years after the Edmund Fitzgerald vanished, local audiences will be able to revisit the maritime tragedy on the Capitol Civic Centre stage.

"Gales of November," the theatrical production about the freighter's sinking, will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10, at the theater, which is located at 913 S. Eighth St., Manitowoc.

"This is a major historical event on the Great Lakes and we've got the show on its anniversary. That's a coup," said Christine Kornely, chair of the Capitol's program committee.

Three singers, four musicians and a narrator will bring the story to life. Audiences may recognize some of the performers from the popular radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion," Kornely said.

"Gales of November" was brought here because of its appeal to local audiences who live on the Great Lakes and are interested in the history and lore surrounding them, she said.

One reason the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald has struck such a chord with so many people is that it "happened at a time when people didn't expect ships to sink anymore. It's a modern shipwreck story," said Prudence Johnson, the show's director and vocalist, in a phone interview from the Minneapolis area.
That article continues:
First produced in 2005, the show is an adaptation featuring music and excerpts from the 1987 hit play "Ten November."

Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Steven Dietz took inspiration from the song and wrote the book, graciously allowing her to borrow from it; Eric Peltoniemi wrote the music.

"I was in the original cast of 'Ten November' back in 1987," Johnson said. "Every once in a while I would take out the tape of the music and every time I would think, 'Wow, that's great music. I would love to sing that again.' "

So she consulted with Peltoniemi, who plays acoustic guitar in the show, and they gathered up fellow cast members, including singer Ruth Mackenzie and electric bass guitar player Jeffrey Willkomm. Rounding out the cast are vocalist Claudia Schmidt, violin and mandolin player Peter Ostroushko, piano and accordion player Dan Chouinard and narrator Kevin Kling.
It's a sunny, blue-sky day here in Charlottesville, with temperatures in the upper 40s -- far from the blustery, chilly weather of the Upper Great Lakes. One of the most profound characteristics of Gordon Lightfoot's songwriting in "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is how he lyrically brings the listener into the midst of the weather and other conditions that led to the tragedy. Echoing the tradition of Irish and Scottish ballads of previous centuries, it is no wonder that the song embedded that event of a generation ago into two nations' consciousness (the two nations being Canada and the United States).

Those who are unfamiliar with the song might check out this video from YouTube, which includes images of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Great Lakes:

Nobody, so far, has said it better.

1 comment:

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