September 22, 2011

Of Folk Songs and Psalms

Convalescing from my very successful surgery with no pain and very little discomfort, I find it difficult to keep sitting quietly and letting my body heal.  Yet last night I found myself glued to the television watching a documentary on PBS about folk singer Pete Seeger.  Although I didn't know it at the time, the music of Pete Seeger had a tremendous influence  my own love of music.  

My earliest recollection of listening to music was my parents collection of Sinatra, Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, and big bands.  Then in the summer of 1962 I began to attend CYO Day Camp in Coney Island, where I was introduced to folk music by a beautiful blond music and art counselor whose name I do not remember.  She played guitar and over the five summers I attended the camp, she taught us songs she heard in Greenwich Village by rising folk singers by Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and others.  I was immediately captivated by the songs, This Land is Your Land, If I Had a Hammer, This Little Light of Mine, Puff the Magic Dragon, Leaving on a Jet Plane and many more. 

Dad noticed my interest in folk music and bought me my first guitar. He loved to hear me sing and often asked me to sing for guests. His favorite request was Where Have All the Flower's Gone.  In retrospect I don't think he realized that it developed into a Viet Nam war protest song, and I was too young to even understand the conflict going on at the other end of the world from my innocent summers in Brooklyn and Long Island. But the music found its way into my soul and last evening's documentary brought back such wonderful memories that go beyond camp to 7th and 8th grade in Long Beach Catholic School and St. Agnes High School where my friends and I would play guitars and sing the songs that we grew up loving. By then we knew the importance of the words we were singing.  They evoked emotions, they made statements, and they defined a generation.

Folk music is still around, but it is not as popular as much of the noise that masquerades as music today.  Folk music had, has heart.  It speaks of the struggles of humanity, and it also speaks of hope and the perseverance of the human spirit.  It brings to my mind the Psalms of the ancient Israelites.  The longer I pray the Psalms, the more I come to appreciate their importance in the Judeo/Christian tradition  The Psalms are like folk songs. They come from the oral tradition of a people who were oppressed, who suffered, they are songs of lament and of sorrow. But they are also songs of joy and of hope in the Lord.  They speak of a common tradition, culture and history. They are songs that have endured by a people who have endured, and they will continue to be sung where and whenever there are men and women who have faith and a need for God. They are the songs who define the People of God.

I haven't played guitar in a long time, and my Guild twelve string is a ten string for the moment.  I haven't been singing much either, except as part of the assembly at Mass.  Yet the Psalms I pray several times a day. They bring to the forefront of my mind every human emotion, every fear, every joy, every desire. Like the folk songs I grew to love, they have become part of who I am as a Christian and as a Child of God. 

1 comment:

  1. At random times I'll find myself humming the songs I learned in my childhood and from Mass. I'm lucky to have such a love for the music passed on to me by my great mom!