The Small Glories began their touring season of 2019 on a cold February night in a little old country church in Beausejour, Manitoba. Not the church that had been planned, mind you, because the furnace conked out and the toilets froze. We could see our breath when we got to the venue. “How do they heat this place?,” I wondered. “Looks like candles,” said JD. I laughed. “That’s it. Just light all the fucking candles!” I swear more when the temperatures drop from below zero Celsius to below zero Fahrenheit. That’s what the minus F stands for for me.
JD lit some candles on the old altar, and I called my buddy Mike McLean. Mike got the furnace going again, but when JD went to take a piss and found the water in the toilet bowl as solid as the porcelain that was holding it, Cara said, “What are we going to do?”
By that time folks were streaming in for the gig. Darlene Omichinski had a key for Zion Lutheran, but they were hosting a tap dance thing. Duane and Deb Versluis had keys for Grace Lutheran. Don Zueff joked that we would be going over to the dark side, but we all piled out the door and headed for Grace and warmth and working toilets. In the end it was just another Small Glory story, a story about trying to make something work, about failing and picking up the pieces and starting all over again.
It struck me that The Small Glories made it safe for us that night to all gather in one church, then safe to leave it and gather in another. That’s no small thing. I know this because I am friends with a lot of the people who came that night. Some of them can’t go to each other’s church, and a lot of them can’t go to church at all, because it’s dangerous for them. So it was odd, and glorious, to enter into music in a church that night that held space for all of us.
People have been gathering in churches for hundreds of years. Sometimes you came because you fell in love with somebody and you wanted to make a big promise. Sometimes you came because you had a new baby and you wanted to share this new happiness with your neighbours and enlist their help. Sometimes you came because someone you loved had died, and you needed good way to say goodbye. Sometimes we came to tell ourselves a story that made us feel better about ourselves than the people who weren’t there. And sometimes we came to fall on our knees, praying like the angel from Montgomery: “Just give me one thing that I can hold on to, ‘cause to believe in this living is just a hard way to go.”
Those places are emptying out now. And after a while the toilets freeze or some other damn thing breaks down. I don’t know if we need churches any more. I do know that we need some songs that can gather us, and some places where we can sing together, now more than ever. “Truth is bread,” said Simone Weil, the 20th-century mystic who refused Christian baptism, “you know it by its taste.” I believe the same is true of art. It’s bread for the journey, and people nowadays are starving for it.
The Small Glories are feeding the people. They know something about truth and art and harmony. They know that one note can get together with a different note and open up a space between them that brings us all in. They know about the many ways we suffer, the many ways we love, the many ways we heal. Their new album is about a couple of come-from-aways who landed at the meeting place of the Assiniboine and the Red, a side-winding meanderer and a fat and lazy prairie river with more power than you would guess. Two wondrous travelers arrived here and made their home with us. I’m so glad they did.