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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Valkyrie January 15, 2006 at 9:01 pm

I think that he can’t possibly help but be an “old folkie” at heart. With the influences of his mother, who seems to have a genuine interest in searching out and preserving historical songs, and his father, who also writes a mean song — possibly future folk songs . . . well, my parents were “old folkies” also. I grew up listening to The Chad Mitchell Trio, The Limelighters, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers. Once really exposed to that genre of music, I think that it finds a place in your heart and you always retain a fondness and respect for it.

Rhapsody January 16, 2006 at 5:49 pm

[quote=”Rhapsody”]From your musings on January 15….

Rufus has absorbed the music of his growing years and carried them into his adulthood. I’m sure he has been in a literal “sound-surround” his whole life. The songs he “performed” as a child for his Grandmother, Gabby, and in his housedold before he accompanied his mom on her show are probably inextricably intertwined with his nostalgia of childhood memories and familial love. I am always impressed by Rufus’ openness to so many musical genres–he seems to appreciate so many on one level or another. It seems more likely that a child will reject what the generation ahead of him has loved–rather than embrace it.
Rufus has stated numerous times both in print and in radio interviews that he felt he got insight into the character of both his mom and dad by listening to their music, and by watching them perform in concerts. When he was sent to boarding school (by Loudon, who felt that Rufus was barricading himself in his room feeding his obsession with opera to an unhealthy degree)
he would listen to him mom’s albums whenever he felt homesick. Music seems to speak to his soul more than one would even expect. He seems to have an assimilation process that goes far beyond the realm of normalcy–must be part of his genius.

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