Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pete Seeger - In Memoriam

I received this email from Chet Roistacher, our Past President and founder of the Riverside Folk Song Society, back in February and am reprinting it here with his permission:

The passing of Pete Seeger brings back memories of my early days when I was first introduced to folk music. In 1941, one of the first folk music albums ever  purchased was the Almanac Singers "Talking Union" with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Will Hays and chorus. I still have that 78 RPM record.

While a student at Cornell University between 1945 and 1949, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Huddie Ledbetter and others came to perform for us. This was a dynamic and exciting period for me, when this wonderful folk music was brought from Appalachia  to this city boy through magic of recordings and radio.

During the dark days of the McCarthy era Pete bravely stood up to the witch hunters and did not bow to them. For this, he and the Almanacs and others were blacklisted. To help these singers during this period, we in the Unitarian church and the Riverside Folksong Society invited Pete to come to Riverside to perform. At that time the Unitarian church owned acreage which had a natural amphitheater and we gathered together and built a stage for his concert.  Enclosed is a poster advertising that concert which proudly hangs on my wall at home and is signed by Pete. Note the picture of young Keith and Rusty McNeil in the upper corner.

by Chet Roistacher, February 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Year - New goals?

We lost one of the greatest of the greats last night. Pete Seeger left us at the age of 94. And he was active until the end. What an example. Of musicianship, of mentoring, of community . . . I could go on and on. Meeting him and having an on-going correspondence with him for a number of years is something I have cherished. Being quoted by him in one of his books was humbling. Listening to and watching him in concert was inspiring. I am sure everyone reading this can point to something from Pete's life that caused them to learn a song, right a wrong, volunteer for a cause, etc. So, thinking of his passing has led me to think of the year ahead and what contributions to music might be within the scope of those of us in the RFSS.

It's 2014. We've already had our first meeting of the year. Were you there? I was out of town (again) so unable to attend.

Here's the thing: the group is only as strong as the weakest link. We need to have some goals, right? How about this:

1) Mark out the meeting dates on your calendar so that they are not just ethereal events.
2) Consider unveiling a new song for at least every third meeting (whether or not you attend all the meetings in the middle of those unveilings) - use the meetings as inspiration to practice, not just re-play the songs you know well. (Use the theme as inspiration for learning something new or relearning something old.)
3) Plan to arrive on time (note: arriving early may sound like a great idea to you, but not to the host - when people show up a half hour early, the host may not be ready yet and now feels an obligation to "entertain" the early birds).
4) When it is your turn, avoid excuses ("I didn't have time to practice" or "I don't know what to do") - these tend to make the audience uncomfortable for you. If you sincerely don't have a song ready, then pass or ask to be given a turn later.
5) Be courteous. Listen (or sing/play along, if asked to) with patience and interest. Looking ahead in your music book, for what you plan to do, while someone else is doing a heart-felt solo is distracting and rude. You should arrive with your choice(s) already determined.
6) Never perform a piece that was already done by someone else (if you arrive late and don't know what was played, ask before assuming your choice was not also someone else's - unless it's an original, even obscure songs are known).
7) Come to have fun - avoid contentious topics, evaluative statements about people/performers, etc.
8) Be aware - when the meeting is over, don't overstay your welcome (the host might not invite us back if they find they need to keep things going long past the planning quitting time).

Set your own music goals for 2014 . . . whether it's a simple "master XYZ tune" or more complex "learn to play the _____(instrument)," goals tend to push us forward and give us a sense of accomplishment (when reached). Write them down where you will see them to remind you of your plan. Keep your musical instrument(s) accessible to encourage you to play whenever you have a spare moment. And love the music. Pete loved the music and the people and he is a perfect example of how music IS the people - we are what we sing, so sing it out, loud and proud!