What We Learned From Pete Seeger

 

Every summer at the Lake, we’d sing songs around the campfire, & I remember my Dad singing with such relish ‘Goodnight Irene’ as the final sendoff, then we’d roll into bed with faces & hearts warmed from the glow of firelight & music.

I think “This Land Is Your Land” is probably one of the first songs I learned after ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and ‘Happy Birthday’. It’s mixed in with all of those things that were learned so early that I don’t remember learning it – as if I’ve always known it. I’m pretty sure I already knew it when we learned it in elementary school music class.

It was only much later that I learned about Pete Seeger & his trips around the world to collect music & share music with every culture he could find. He took his family & recording gear & instruments with the goal of collecting, sharing, & dispersing music to everyone everywhere. What a great idea! He recognized that music is a universal language – every society has a musical component that every human can relate to, and what better way to bring people together than through the common root of song. He was able to break down seemingly complex material (a-weem-o-way!) into easily understandable parts so anyone of any age could join in and be a part of the action. Together.

He came up against many roadblocks on his path – McCarthyism, arts funding, societal pressures, corporate steam rolling – and was able to persist with perseverance and a vision that remained true. And at the same time made it clear to the people around him who were paying attention that it is possible to simply follow what you believe in, persist in a direction that is in the best interest of everyone, and things can happen. Thank you Pete.

Music is for everyone, water is for everyone, freedom is for everyone. And Pete Seeger is the proof of the power of music and the ability of the ordinary citizen to make a difference in the world.

His banjo has an inscription on it: This machine surrounds hate & forces it to surrender.

It’s as simple as that.

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