Friday, May 13, 2011

Sullivan Ballou

I remember watching The American Civil War documentary the first time it appeared on UK TV and it's been good enough to reappear occasionally over the years as well as being available on DVD (see it if for some reason it has passed you by in the last 21 years). I never fail to watch an episode if it appears in the schedules.

Beautifully narrated, comprehensive, and full of first hand accounts of events it's still one of the finest and most moving pieces of television I've ever seen.

Today, on the radio, I was reminded of one particular excerpt from the series. It's a farewell letter from a volunteer major to his wife days before he was due to go into battle. You run out of words to describe it but it's touching, eloquent, heartfelt and heartbreaking. Doubtless there were many other letters like it (maybe even finer ones) that did not survive but you can only work with what is left and this is, I'm sure, about as appropriate and relevant as any. Spare yourself three minutes and listen to it but please do not be put off by the silly 30 second intro.

That TV series also introduced me to some great voices. I keep thinking about doing a blog post about great voices but I can never think of a way to present it without just showing a bunch of YouTube links which is just lazy. This series heavily featured Shelby Foote and Garrison Keillor.

If the message is important or you hope people will listen, you need to deliver it through the right medium; I sometime think people forget that. A good speaking voice has given hope to many a lost cause and it perhaps correspondingly has also given excessive creedence to bad ones - but there you go, some you win, some you lose.