The joy of singing

January 15, 2006

This morning I watched the 1991 PBS special Songs of the Civil War that features the McGarrigle sisters, Rufus and friends singing “Better Times are Coming” and “Hard Times Come Again No More.” In it we see a 17 year old Rufus Wainwright lost in the joy of singing. Not only he, but his mother and aunt, Kate and Anna are swept up in the power of those songs. It brought home the fact that at the core of Rufus’s musicianship, is a genuine love and passion for singing.

I tell my students, especially as winter approaches, to remember that music can be a marvelous antidepressant, a magical rejeuvenator that replenishes the spirit. And it’s contagious to listeners.

After seeing the recent Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, I realized that I know and love most of his music from that period. When I went away to study “serious” music, I abandoned my guitar, and much of the music I grew up with: the Beatles, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. The Dylan documentary got me back in touch with my own roots, and helped me to no longer be ashamed of being “an old folkie.” Nowadays, I love to sit at the piano and sing songs that I used to play on the guitar, on the piano. I bounce back and forth between the Beatles, the Kinks, Rufus, old hymns… Not something I’m going to confess to my avante garde composer colleagues, but I don’t care. It makes me happy.

Hearing Rufus sing these old Civil War songs made me realize that he too is an old folkie. But he hasn’t left his roots: “The Makers Make” is really a folk song. Nothing earth shattering to comment about harmonically, just a good ol’ solid folk song. And that’s good enough.

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