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Song Leading

Singing Together

One way or another, my goal most of the time as a folk singer, is to get other folks singing.  My favorite memory of singing together comes from the summer 1969.  Pete Seeger and friends put on a fundraising concert to support the newly built sloop Clearwater in Nyak, NY.  I was living in the area, cutting lawns by day and worrying about the draft in the evenings.

Google can’t confirm my memory of the event and specify a date, but I think it was toward the end of the summer. I don’t recall arriving and who all was performing along with Pete, but the ending, that’s what stands out.

You need to understand, there are very few performers who can get a crowd singing loud enough at an outdoor concert for the singers to really hear themselves.  Most of the time, when performing outdoors, audience participation is more of an exercise in lip syncing.  Neither the audience nor performer really hear the group singing.

Pete Seeger was one performer who defied that norm.  He picked the right songs, got the audience going with enough energy and confidence that it really was a group experience, even without a roof overhead to keep the sound in. (The only other performer I’ve heard who can equal Pete in getting a crowd singing loudly enough to hear themselves is Bruce Springsteen.)

On that memorable night in Nyak, as Pete was getting ready to wrap up the concert, a storm rolled in and it started to rain.  Pete was leading Guantanamera. The storm was a gusher.  The sound system went out, along with a lot of the lighting.  And in the midst of that, Pete kept wailing on his banjo, leading several hundred people standing in a downpour singing Guantanamera. (PBS recorded it, by the way, so a record of this may exist somewhere.)

Now that is song leading!

Chorus Songs

Reality check here: I’ve never been a very good guitar player.  My singing is okay -- not very good on harmonies but strong enough to encourage other folks to sing out with enthusiasm. But my instrumental skills are limited.  So my music was mostly about singing and getting folks to sing along. I collect songs with good choruses, refrains or other opportunities for group participation.  

And I came of age during the Great Folk Scare of the '60s. The folk music of that time era put a lot of emphasis on chorus songs, too.  If you went to a coffeehouse back in those days, you expected of audience participation.  And then there was Pete – I always wanted to be like Pete.  As a result – almost all the songs I sing have choruses or refrains or something that makes the song better with other people joining in.  That’s why I say I’m a song leader – not a folk singer. 

Song Leading for Today and Tomorrow

There is something special that happens when people sing together.  It unites and energizes people.  Whether is Christmas carols or sea chanteys; protest songs or Bruce’s greatest hits – singing together brings people together.  The end effect can range from something like warm and pleasant feelings much to something with a much stronger impact.

I’m happy to bring my song leading skills to groups looking for a way to bring people together Reach out to me via email at ridgek (at) gmail (dot) com. Give me a little information about your program and we can arrange a phone conversation to see if there’s a way we can make music together.