singing for freedom with a new generation ...

Today I had the privilege to join Sara Lee Guthrie and about 45 other hearty souls for the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade. Our group, number 175 out of 176 ensembles, sang songs written by or inspired by her late grandfather, Woody Guthrie, and his comrade in song, Pete Seeger. At the close of the parade we shared a tune for some local vets that was made popular by her poppa, Arlo Guthrie, "City of New Orleans." Her current brigade of songsters, "The Hoping Machine," added zest and verve to the Four Freedoms Coalition stalwarts. It was a gas.

In addition to her own artistry - and it is moving and insightful - Ms. Guthrie has called together other folk musicians and singers to create The Hoping Machine.  After bringing a cadre of artists to the Climate March on Washington, DC, she shared a few insights in The Daily Hapmpshire Gazette.  First, the name of the ensemble is "Inspired by words from her grandfather, Woody Guthrie: “The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine.”  When asked about why she felt called to resurrect some of the old - and a few new - songs of protest, she said:

I have to admit I may have thought that myself, like protest music didn't really apply to me and my generation — at least not until now. A few major events recently changed this for me. The first was when Pete Seeger died. I never thought I’d find myself wanting to fill his shoes, but I felt I had a certain responsibility to carry on his legacy. I hope we all did! It hit me hard: who is going to advocate for the water and the planet through song like Pete did? It’s going to take everyone to fill those shoes.

Next was Bernie Sanders. I was asked to perform for some of his campaign rallies out in California. This changed my life. It was such an honor. I knew he was a fan of Woody and Pete so I brought forth some of the songs I felt were appropriate for these campaigns. This was the first time I really found myself in a position of singing for justice, equality, peace and hope. It gave me such purpose. I was empowered and, for the first time ever, hopeful that the government could actually serve me and the things I cared about. The Womens’ March was the next time I felt that. I felt I had a place in this world that I could really contribute to. The optimism that I have is rare, and I felt I had to share it. I know now for sure that songs have the power to unite. Like a heartbeat, our breath and voices together make us one. When we feel like we are one, we have strength, courage, and hope. It’s the opposite of fear; it’s exactly what we need now. Songs have the power to heal the hopeless.

I had a very strong intention with this group. I didn't call in all my professional singing friends; we are a group of regular people. Everyone has a voice and you don’t have to be good to be great! Before Pete’s legacy of getting everyone to sing along fades over time and generations, I want to make sure everyone feels what it’s like to join in the chorus. It’s also just fun!

As we walked with one another, waving at the hundreds of people lined up applauding the parade who joined us in singing "This Land Is Your Land" I saw black, brown, white and yellow faces singing this song - men and women, young and old, gay and straight and trans, too - and when my voice gave out (and it did in the heat) others picked up the refrain and sang it with gusto. It was the perfect way to celebrate July 4th for me and I give thanks to God for the Four Freedoms Coalition and for Sara Lee Guthrie and the Hoping Machine. I think I'll head down to the Guthrie Center next Monday and join another song. 


Paul Durwin said…
I have yet to actually "watch" the parade, having been the technical director making the actual camera selections while ensconced in our production truck, in the flurry and spirit of a rock concert. Im sure when I view the group passing by when i watch it in on demand at PCTV I will enjoy the music passing by. I too recently spent an evening in the old church singing with my less than educated voice with some great people. Having had a tiny bit part in the old movie gave me another connection along with a night of dinner and performance with the Hoping Machine and guests at an evening concert. Maybe we will meet in the circle some Monday night. You never know.

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