Magazine November 2, 2009, Issue

An Unpretty Pass

Cover the children’s eyes, and ears? (Extract from Van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece)
What a song without words says about American life

In Mill Creek, Wash., there is a high school named after Scoop Jackson, the late senator and Cold War hero. Mill Creek is just outside Everett, which was the senator’s hometown. And, in 2006, something curious happened at Jackson High — something that helps us know where we stand in American life.

The school had had a little tradition: Every year, the wind ensemble would choose a piece to play at graduation. In the previous three years, the group had picked On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss, by David Holsinger. It is based on “It Is Well with My Soul.” But

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