Whitman Celebrated in Speech and Song, but North Heights Residents Suffer

Holly Anderson recites Walt Whitman’s “A Locomotive in Winter”, accompanied by Jonathan Kane’s February, a band whose influences seem to include Steve Reich, Hüsker Dü, and Mississippi John Hurt, at last night’s Whitman festival on Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park, sponsored by the Brooklyn Heights Association in collaboration with ISSUE Project Room.

This very 21st century celebration of Brooklyn’s great 19th century poet drew a large crowd to Pier 1’s harbor lawn to hear readers and musical groups, some of the latter inspiring, like February, others less so. After February, CSC Funk Band took the stage and performed one long, rousing number. They were about to start another (it was now around 10:00) when ISSUE’s Zach Layton took the mike and, apologizing to the band and audience, said “We have an agreement with the Park.” With that, the band members started packing up their instruments and some people got up to leave. After a minute or so, Layton came back to the mike and announced that there would be a final, unamplified acoustic set featuring novelist Rick Moody and Hannah Marcus, his singing partner from the Wingdale Community Singers.

Moody and Marcus sat at the edge of the stage and sang Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”, as they had adapted it for music, for a small group of people who gathered around them. The rest of the crowd continued gathering up their blankets and bags, and chattering. Thus the poor aucoustic quality of the above clip, which improves at the end as Marcus and Moody seem to find their voices and harmonize nicely. Here is the text of the poem:

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts, the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the learned astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

As I was walking home, I checked my BlackBerry, and found an e-mail from a friend who lives on Columbia Heights between Cranberry and Middagh, urging me to put something on BHB about the horrendous sonic assault he had endured that evening from amplified music coming from the park. It was so loud, he said, that he couldn’t hear his TV despite having his windows closed. He feared this might be a precedent for similar occurrences in the future. Today I received another e-mail, from a different North Heights resident, making a similar complaint and expressing the same fears.

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  • http://www.issueprojectroom.org zach layton

    a correction, it was not Steve Buscemi making that announcement, but I…Zach Layton…of ISSUE Project Room. We had an agreement with the park to turn the music off at 10pm and we kept to it, turing it off on the dot at 10pm…not 10:45. There were hundreds of people at the park enjoying themselves, we hope it wasn’t too much of a disturbance for a few north heights residents…and a great opportunity to celebrate one very distinguished resident from the past, mr. Walt Whitman. Thanks for having us!

  • William Spier

    Yup, disturb a few cadavers (at (8:00P.M.) in the Heights with live and vital creativity and these ghouls rise from the dead to complain. I was taking a walk on the Promenade just when the assault from Holly Anderson and Walt Whitman wreaked havoc on all sorts of local comfort.

    Where do these people think they live anyhow, Old Westbury?

  • nabeguy

    I actually didn’t mind the music bouncing around the walls of the north Heights.. But next time, a few more dollars towards the PA system would help…the reverb was a killer.

  • Homer Fink

    The audio level on site wasn’t overbearing at all. It did carry disproportionately up to the North Heights. I’m sure there’s some big brained audio expert who could figure out a way to dampen the effect. Pier 1 is a great place for concerts, let’s not get overly fuddy duddy about this.

  • http://www.PoetsUSA.com D Gioseffi

    Isn’t it awful that Brooklyn’s best contemporary poets where not asked to participate in this event by the Brooklyn Heights Association. We poets are the heirs of Whitman, not the rock and jazz bands that could have also be invited, but the poets of Brooklyn should have come first to read Walt Whitman’s poetry as we are his heirs and more than likely know the most about his work and poetry. We profits seem without honor in our own country, it seems. I say this not just for myself but for the other good poets of Brooklyn who have published many books of poetry and presented many readings and essays on Walt Whitman through the years. We could have drawn many poets to this event, too.

  • http://www.PoetsUSA.com D Gioseffi

    And of course, I meant to say that we PROPHETS are without honor in our own country, but the blog doesn’t let you correct type-o’s after you make them. Or does it?