From the Editors: Instruments of change
Erie has been trying to rewrite its theme song using instruments that haven't been working
It was a chilly Christmas Eve in 1818, and Austrian pastor Joseph Franz Mohr found himself in need of a song — and not just any song, but an absolute banger in the most reverent sense of the word. What's more, he needed it in mere hours — when the congregation of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf was due to show up for midnight mass. Scrambling, the pious procrastinator dug up an old poem he'd written and recruited his ride-or-die homie, Franz Xaver Gruber, for a melody. Gruber (pronounced "GROO-ber" auf Deutsch) was the church's choir director and organist, so he knew a thing or two about stringing notes together. Unfortunately, the St. Nick's organ had recently been knocked out of commission by flooding from the nearby Salzach River (don't you hate it when that happens?)
Despite the tight deadline and the unavailability of his chief instrument, Groobs pulled through — group project MVP. With just one guitar (presumably slung way down low), "Stille Nacht" came alive that night, just in the St. Nick of time. Better known as "Silent Night" to the English-speaking world, the carol would become an Austrian national treasure, and to this day is not played or performed publicly before Christmas Eve in its country of origin.
Although we in Erie are separated from the original "Stille Nacht'' by the Atlantic Ocean and a gulf of 203 years, if there is one thing we can extrude from the story of Mohr and Groobs, it's that necessity is absolutely the mother of invention. The songwriting duo was presented with less than ideal circumstances, but did not accept things as they were — instead, they tuned into themselves and the moment, envisioning what could be. By leaning into their talents and maximizing limited resources, they created something that has stood the test of time.
For decades, Erie has been trying to rewrite its theme song using instruments that haven't been working — worn-out models of funding and facilitating transformational change that have accomplished neither. To its credit, local leadership has acknowledged that the ponderous pipe organ of past ideas and past methodologies has been dragging us down, and our need for a more nimble future, one that anyone can pick up and play along to. But even if our guiding hands have their fingers on the fretboard, there are many nuances and accents to be mastered before we can truly elevate this composition, and many dissonances they will need to find a way to tastefully resolve.
So pull up a chair by the fireplace (or electric space heater) and relax and reflect with us about an uneven 2021, and the uncertain 2022 that is yet to come. Our city and society may never be heavenly, but perhaps one day we'll all be able to sleep a little more peacefully.