Saturday, April 7, 2018

From regional to universal songs

I grew up in Chicago during the late 60s and 70s. Back then music was more regionally based. Songs played on the radio in Chicago were not played here in Virginia.  If you grew up in NYC, you weren't likely to hear the same songs played on the radio on Mississippi. For this reason, it can be a challenge when I lead sing alongs to a group of elders with varied background. Not only in terms of geographical differences but also ethnic and racial backgrounds can influence what songs resonate or not. However, there are also songs that are universally known and those are great to sing in all groups.

Since I moved to Virginia nearly 30 years ago,  my musical repertoire has expanded a lot and I love the songs that have come to be favorites to sing at local nursing homes. I have learned much from the Southern Gospel repertoire that really go over well. Songs like, "I Saw The Light," "I'll Fly Away," "Sweet By & By," Do Lord."

What I love to see is how much the words and meaning of the songs reflect some of the audience members' life experience. Back when I was just learning to play the guitar, and taking lessons at The Old Town School of Folk Music (in Chicago), I remember that the song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken, " was a favorite to play in our weekly jam sessions. The words at the time were just lyrics to me but now their meaning resonant with real life experience:

"I was standing by my window, on a cold and cloudy day
when I saw the hearse come rollin' for to carry my mother away.."

I feel those words, the sorrow of losing my mother and I know everyone feels this way. The song goes on to say,

"I will follow close behind her, try to hold up and be brave
but I could not hide my sorrow when they laid her in the grave."

I know everyone in the room has been there. It's a universal experience, letting our mother's go. Interesting too that the song gives a feeling of hope and connection - rather than sadness. It's because we are not alone in our feelings and experience.

Other universal songs are, "My Girl" by The Temptations - this always brings a smile and "Stand By Me."

"When the night has come, and the land is dark
and the moon is the only light you see
well I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
just as long, as you stand
Stand by me..."

When we sing that song, we are standing by and with each other.  A song can be the one who stands by us and gets us through a rough patch at times.

Yesterday the song that bonded my group the most was an unexpected one. Someone requested a song by Elvis Presley. The one that came to mind was, "Hound Dog." When I started to sing this- everyone started clapping and singing along. There were feet stomping too. We laughed and made up our own verses too. I always thought it was a silly song but silliness is part of our collective experience too. We had every feeling in there yesterday.

What songs get you clapping and stomping? May you sing that song today and brighten your day!

Thank you for stopping by!

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