Tuesday, February 18, 2014

PETE SEEGER - A Time to Thank

Pete Seeger – A Time to Thank

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose under heaven.

Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL.

On January 27, 2014, Pete Seeger died, and the world is a darker and sadder place for losing his extraordinary voice, spirit, and commitment to "changing the world one song at a time."

Those who had the honor and pleasure of knowing the man have written about Seeger far more eloquently than I can hope to, among them Peter Yarrow, Arlo Guthrie, and  my friend Stuart Stotts. The listserv of the Children’s Music Network (CMN), of which he was a member, also witnessed a poignant outpouring of stories, testimonials to the profound impact he made on all of us. One of my favorites, excerpted from Scott Alarik’s book, Revival, can be found on the CMN blogYou’ll be happy you took the time to look. 

Today’s post is dedicated to Pete Seeger, and to his aural home, 
Smithsonian Folkways.

Seeger walked the walk and talked the talk of peace and social justice throughout his life. He was a mensch, devoted to his family and wife, Toshi,  a humanitarian and planetarian (my word) who included respect for the earth as part of the equation.  A singer, scholar, song collector and activist who rode the rails with Woody Guthrie, he lived a rich and complicated life in challenging times. He wrote and collaborated brilliantly on iconic songs that resonate to this day – If I Had a Hammer (with Lee Hays of the Weavers), Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (with Joe Hickerson) – and also had the wisdom to recognize, support and sing the songs of talented songwriters, from Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes ...

                                               Walk Off the Earth YouTube, 2012

                                         Smithsonian Folkways YouTube, 2009 

...to Josh White Jr.’s English is Cuh-Ray Zee more than four decades later.** 

Rivertown Kids...Changing the world!
Seeger was a citizen of the world, who popularized sounds and songs from other cultures, and believed it was better to sing together than alone. To this end, and up to the end, he sang and worked with children, as in Forever Young, with the Rivertown Kids (Bonus: Amnesty International USA - Video backstory).  

Thank you, Pete, for showing us, through a life well lived, the power of song.

If you’re an educator or musician working with young children, you might be wondering how to present Pete Seeger in your classroom. One avenue is through picture books, especially books that can be sung.

Abiyoyo is arguably the best known of Seeger’s books to sing, and rare indeed is the library or classroom that does not possess a copy of the book, based on a lilting South African (Bantu) lullaby and folktale.  

OneGrain of Sand: A Lullaby, originally 
written for his daughter, Tinya, is an exquisitely illustrated, reflective book, perfect to sing during a quiet time - or turn the pages while Seeger sings.   

I Had A Rooster involves three generations of the Seeger clan. The song was collected in American Folksongs for Children by Pete’s stepmother and acclaimed composer, Ruth Crawford Seeger, recorded by Pete, who also wrote the book’s forward, and vibrantly illustrated by daughter-in-law, Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  

Side note: The continued relevance of American Folksongs for Children cannot be overstated. Ruth Crawford Seeger pioneered the use of American folksong in children's music education - starting with her own! 
It's one of the books I most strongly recommend to those interested in singing 
with children. 

Pete Seeger of the Weavers performs at the Old Town School
of Folk Music in Chicago, IL, January 13, 1958.  Photo by
Robert Malone, courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
Another avenue to bring Seeger into the classroom is through recordings, and that’s where Smithsonian Folkways (SF) comes in. This amazing site counts 123(!) albums/CDs in it’s holdings, most of which are devoted solely to Seeger, the rest are collections in which he has contributed one or more songs.  In A Tribute to Pete Seeger, Jeff Place writes, 
Moses Asch, who in 1948 had started his Folkways label, was an old friend and supporter….During the 50s and 60s, Folkways published dozens of Seeger’s records….(and) his children’s records were entertaining a new generation of youngsters in schools and summer camps, where he was also known to make appearances. His great children’s albums from this period remain best sellers today, including his own story Abiyoyo.”

After Moses Asch’s death in 1986, the Folkways label was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, with the agreement that the 2100+ original recordings (albums, not tracks!) of world music would stay in print regardless of market sales – in other words, forever. The collection is now comprised of 3200 albums and 45,000 tracks of  "traditional, ethnic, and contemporary music from around the world; poetry, spoken word, and instructional recordings in numerous languages; and documentary recordings of individuals, communities, current events, and natural sounds."

American Folk, Game and Activity Songs
       American Play Parties*** 
Thus we are able to find, access, learn from and sing along with all the albums pictured within this post, which are only a small sampling of what’s available.

Click on the links beneath the CD/album covers for a fuller appreciation of their contents. Sound samples and track listings reveal an array of singable songs to delight our children and enliven our classrooms. Birds, Beast, Bugs & Fishes (Little and Big) by itself contains Fly Through My Window, I Had a Rooster, the rollicking Alligator, Hedgehog, fanciful Frog Went a Courting, Mister Rabbit, Skip to My Lou, Mole in the Ground, The Fox - and 20 more! All of these recordings are similarly charming and relevant - and speak directly to the subjects that interest our children and engage their hearts. 

Each album's information page includes links to liner notes and more! Let's examine this last feature - the liner notes. 

Smithsonian Folkways took on the massive job, accomplished over many years, of cataloging and digitizing not only recordings, but also preserving the liner notes. These historical documents contain fascinating notes written by the collectors, researchers and recording artists (in this case, Seeger). Seeger’s children’s recordings also include lyrics and dance/game directions in many instances – a treasure trove, indeed.  Let’s take a look at how to access liner notes:
 Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)
1. Choose recording. Click on either the cover OR the title of the album. The next page will open.

2. Locate "Download Liner Notes" at the center of the page, above the "track listings."
 Click on the pdf  icon (circled in blue). 

3. The front album cover will open first, followed by the back cover (above), then...

4. The liner notes appear! In this particular case, the track listing is followed by an introduction then song lyrics, and graced with the addition of several pen and ink illustrations. 

5. Now you try -- with one of the albums above or below!! You can't go wrong! My personal favorite, if that's possible, is American Folk, Game and Activity Songs. Tracks 1-11 were selected by Pete from Ruth Crawford Seeger's book, American Folksong for Children (see above), and the liner notes are of particular interest.  

Song and Play Time
Folk Songs for Young People

I confess that I was not aware of the magnitude of SF’s offerings until I happened to take part in the weeklong Smithsonian Folkways Certification Course in World Music Pedagogy during the summer of 2012, a highly recommended experience!
This course is offered every summer at the University of Washington in Seattle, under the inspired direction of Dr. Patricia Shehan Campbell and her superb band of artist-musicians and teachers. Though a music background is helpful, don’t be deterred if you haven’t one. Passion, commitment and a willingness to learn are more important qualities, and people are there to aid and assist. Full disclosure – a basic ability to notate is helpful.
Though I primarily teach early childhood music classes (Pre-K to third grade), it was valuable to step outside of that world and immerse myself in what was offered. Our class listened, moved and authentically participated in rich, diverse global music traditions, many of which were previously obscure to us. As a culminating activity, we individually delved into a chosen topic by creating a lesson plan for Smithsonian Folkways, based on music in its vast collection. There are now 100+ of these free lesson plans online, created by those who participated in the course.

Cooler than the breeze Pinterest page! Check it out! 
Lesson plans are available through the dropdown menu under Tools for Teaching by clicking on lessons and activities and are arranged by continent. Mine is The Power of Pete Seeger’s Songs and Stories. It was a labor of love, formulated for K – 2nd grade classrooms, though the activities can be easily adapted for older and younger students. 

A final note: Smithsonian Folkways, though part of the Smithsonian Institution, does not receive any governmental support , so I am especially glad to contribute to this amazing organization through the purchase of CDs, vinyl (!), and individual songs from their always expanding collection. 
Thank you, Smithsonian Folkways, for your good work. You are indeed our national treasure.
Bits and pieces
Pete Seeger Tribute playlist  -  from Smithsonian Folkways. Thank you.
  Posted 2/19/14 on Smithsonian Folklife listserv. A time to listen!

*Turn! Turn! Turn! - Music by Pete Seeger, words adapted from the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes. Wikipedia states, “The song is notable for being one of a few instances in popular music in which a large portion of scripture is set to music….The Byrds' version distinguishes the song as the #1 pop hit with the oldest lyrics, dating back to the Book of Ecclesiastes. Many biblical scholars believe Ecclesiastes 1:1 implies King Solomon as the book's author; thus, if true, giving Solomon (born c. 1011 BC) lyrical credit for a number one hit.”

**English is Cuh-Ray-Zee.” - Depending on the source, Seeger is listed as a co-writer with Josh White, Jr., although in his 2009 Smithsonian YouTube (above), he attributes sole authorship to Josh White, Jr. Mudcat.org states that Pete contributed the refrain, “English is cuh-ray-zee.”

***I must admit to a partiality for playparties - and I'm especially intrigued by 
the photo on the cover of this recording!

And in the end...
Thank you so much for joining me! Please feel free to contact me with any questions.  I hope you’ll visit me next month when I’ll be sharing more apps, musical ideas, and artists I'm thankful for!
I am continually inspired by the Children’s Music Network (CMN) community. an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.” Please visit CMN, and find a gathering in your region. 

©2014 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 * gardengoddess1@comcast.net


  1. Brigid, What a treasure trove of resources about him and affection and honor for the man we loved. Thanks for putting this out there. stuart

  2. Thank you, Stuart. What an amazing life...and what he's left for us.... brigid

  3. Thank you Brigid, and thank you, Pete Seeger! My father bought and learned how to play the 5 string banjo because of Pete's playing (and book) which brought live music and singalongs to our whole family and many friends. They continue on to this day. :)

  4. Isn't it interesting how someone can affect our lives...and our future lives! Here you are, carrying it on with your beautiful spirit, voice, songs and teaching. Thank you, Karen!


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