Friday, September 03, 2010

The Pete Seeger Session

In my mind, these last two weeks of Woodland Park's summer program has been the "Pete Seeger session," although it would more accurately be described as the "American Folk session." Seeger is my touchstone because he recorded, and in many cases popularized, the songs. I also see him as an ally in my efforts to teach even young children the vital democratic trait of questioning authority.

I carry around many of these recordings on my iPod, most of which were performed before a live audience. Although to say that these classic songs are performed "before" an audience is a misnomer. Most of them are sing-alongs and what sends shivers down my spine is the sound of his audience singing with him, rising up in an amateur choir of voices that is the proper "instrument" for American folk music. Those co-mingled voices give power to the music that no soloist could ever match.

We started singing "Little Boxes" a few months back, which the children have now made their own. I love this simple anthem to individuality.

(Last week, Sena's mom Ann wrote me to say that while helping to set the table, she placed a glass of water in front of her sister and said, "Here's your martinis dry." They don't always learn the lesson you intend for them, but I still expect that Sena will never let someone put her in a little box.)

To this song we added "This Land Is Your Land," Woody Guthrie's response to "God Bless America." I recall singing this song in first grade, and apparently it's still being sung in our public schools because two of our summer session kids who are entering first grade excitedly told us they already knew it from kindergarten. I love the powerful declaration of ownership and democracy found in this song and singing it together is the only way it sounds right.

I choked up a couple of times these last two weeks, as the moms and dads and kids sang it together. We then followed it up each time by breaking out out classroom map of the US and finding things like California, the New York Islands, the red wood forests, and the Gulf Stream Waters. Children then started spontaneously raising their hands to tell us of places they have been so we could find them on the map as well.

We sang the "edited" version in class, omitting two of the verses, just as Arlo and Pete did in this video. Going forward, I plan to include them.
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said, "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city. In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
We also sang "If I Had A Hammer" using rhythm sticks as a hammers and jingle bells as our bells. We loved using our hammer of justice to hammer out danger, and we loved using our bells of freedom to ring out warning.

If I have a disappointment about this final two week session of summer with the older kids it is that it was too short. I had so many other songs to teach them, but 3 new ones seemed about right. I had "Turn, Turn, Turn," "We Shall Overcome," and "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy" in my back pocket, but never broke them out. I guess I'll find those still there when we're ready for them during the regular school year.

Bookmark and Share


Unknown said...

Very interesting.
I never questioned authority.
I turned out just fine : )
I guess it all depends how you go about it.
Hope your 3 day weekend is filled with long walks, lots of tinkering and spending time with the ones you love the most. Love, Becky

Teacher Tom said...

@Becky . . . I know many things about your life that tell be different! It's not about defiance, but it is about seeking truth something I know you do! =)

Colleen said...

Pete Seeger lives in the town where I grew up, Beacon, NY. Every year he and his friends would march down main street on Spirit of Beacon Day singing "This land is your land." It wasn't until I was much, much older that I figured out that our Pete Seeger was THE Pete Seeger.