Lifetime Hope

Voices active in song spilled out of the United Church of Granville (Ohio) on the mid summer’s eve of July 20th, 2014. Folks came together singing (what else?) folk songs. The occasion was a memorial to the dynamic and almost more than vital life of Pete Seeger. Promotional enticement for the evening quoted Pete: “The lifetime hope of mine is not to just put music in the ears of people, but on their lips.” Just that was provided thanks to the generous vocal and instrumental collaborative performance of Bill Cohen and Carl Yaffey. Karaoke it was not. No words or bouncing ball appeared on a screen. Who knew the songs, the lyrics, the melodies by heart to have them “on their lips”? Analysis notes those most readily articulating the music by heart were greying. Analysis also noted that those without the silver in their hair were oftentimes busy with their eyes on a screen (their thumbs on a keyboard) and no song “on their lips.” Although many a teacher has reconciled themselves with “it’s only a tool”, Analysis found little evidence that smart phones were being used (as the marvelous tools they are) to access the individual song lyrics so that the uninitiated could sing right along with the Flintstones from the pre digital age. Sigh. That was why folks came together to folk concerts, folk coffee shops, folk music festivals – to be with other folks, sharing folk songs in common as folks. But wait, there’s more to this challenge of how busy fingers (OK, thumbs) make for un-idle (distracted) minds. The quote by Seeger says it all. But what does it say? That’s the beauty of song and lyrics and language. They can be in the ears for the listener’s sole, exclusive, unique pleasure and interpretation – the lure, attraction and success of today’s available (and primarily commercial) media. And media is what mediates – “involving an intermediate agency; not direct” (Webster’s). Songs, lyrics and language “on the lips” is quite immediate, “without intervening medium or agent; direct” (Webster’s). And it was precisely that non-commercial immediate action which resonated within the history of the United Church of Granville. Analysis can’t help but note the transgressive and almost subversive nature of this folk ensemble performance. Within the current political pedagogy of testing and standards, with its emphasis on third grade reading proficiency, there is a glaring absence of third grade writing proficiency. Writing, like singing, is an activity involving language, lyrics and sensory expression able to be shared in common. Analysis finds that Sunday’s sing-a-long indicates Seeger’s quote (“The lifetime hope of mine is not to just put music in the ears of people, but on their lips.”) has more contemporary resonance than simple folk music aspiration.

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