To me, the headliner of the showcase was Ruth Pelham. I had only recently become aware of Ruth, her music, her songs, her activism and community involvement in the Albany, NY area, the geographical area I grew up in. She was featured and feted at the Children’s Music Network National Conference I attended this fall in VA.
I was struck back then of her talent and committment to write, perform and engage kids and adults with meaningful songs about our culture: promote family, peace, ecology, cooperation, etc. Stuff I don’t do.
She has a music van that has headed into the projects and neighborhoods of the city of Albany, literally creating community of music for kids, for 30 plus years. She takes her music to the streets. I became her secret admirer on the spot.
Ruth, like another amazing friend and tiny lady Jackie Pack from Philly, takes the stage and instantly engages the kids, using many performance tools that just keep on unfolding as she performs. Ruth knows her stuff and it was cool to recognize some of the techniques I’ve stumbled across over the last decade.
A particular one is singing in silence. Its actually a pretty deep level of cognitive activity. She set up the song, got the kids to learn the hand motions, got them to sing and move along to the song (yes, with culturally rich lyrics), and then suggested that they do the song without singing. There’s a lot going on in that silence though. The kids are singing in their heads, they are kenetically involved, they are forced into recognizing a musical/mathematical structure with the chord progression, and they get to hear ‘the absence of sound’ as a community.
I love to hear the audience ‘take it’ when I get folk singing, and it is directly from the Pete Seeger school of folk. Let the community hear its own voice, absent the lead voice, in the moment. But there is a power in the absence of sound as well.
Ruth pointed out that no sound is a musical technique, and is as important as the notes themselves. The spaces in between. Oh, yeah. She also added that it also promote social restraint, especially hard for third graders (and boys, she added).
She asked David and Jenny and myself up for the final number, and we did a round. Now that’s something I cannot do with any confidence. It’s that Seeger connection again. Hand movements, a familiar tune, a good message, and a challenging musical task. I barely made it through it myself.
As the kids left, I high-fived as many as I could, basked in the glow of playing a good show with some fine performers, a lively bunch of intelligent kids and teachers, and, hopefully, for some venues who would hire us all for their folk venues.
All before 10 am. Workshop to follow. Sheesh.