So tomorrow (or probably today, by the time most folks read this) we will be performing at the Farmers Market in Payson, AZ. I was asked to do this program when I connected with an Arizona folksinger friend, Anne James. Anne is involved in a number of folk-type things and always seems to be running in one direction or another, but we were able to stop long enough when we saw each other in Flagstaff to get this program scheduled. Then I learned that we have a 2-hour slot! I'm used to doing programs of historical focus, with the narrative illustrated by songs; but here the audience is not likely to be interested in a lot of narration (people will be coming and going throughout the time). While I have way more than enough songs to keep things going for 2 hours, the variety seems to lack continuity. So these past couple of days I have been trying to connect the types of songs I sing, to make the material flow, and this is what I came up with.
I began learning songs at my father's side, he playing piano and teaching me the words. We would do this day after day, when he'd get home from work and before we'd have dinner. So I learned a lot of kids' songs that way. It was, of course, augmented when I went to school and we had music time (I loved music time . . . it was by far the best part of the week). My music teacher was Mrs. Shaddock and she had been a teacher for one of the members of the Kingston Trio. I'd just barely heard of them . . . she'd tell stories about their music and them learning to blend their voices, etc. We didn't sing any Kingston Trio songs in school, but I learned them when I started to play the ukulele (Mrs. Shaddock, who'd lived a while in Hawaii, was thrilled when I told her I was learning to play uke).
Actually, the uke was not my first instrument; my dad had tried to teach me piano (what a waste of time that turned out to be . . . we didn't know then that I was dyslexic and the notes all just jumped around on the staff . . . it was hopeless . . . partly because I was only 5 years old at the time). But my grandfather played a Swedish zither called a Harpeleik and I fell in love with that (no notes - just chords . . . and those were arranged in groups of strings so there was no fingering issues . . . just find the chord and strum . . . even I could do that). So my grandfather taught me to play his "harp" and at Christmas time he'd bring it to our house so I could play Christmas songs on it all through the season. One year he said we should just keep it at our place . . . I could have it! I was about 9 years old at the time and so excited. So when I moved on to learning the ukulele, it was a continuation of the chord principle and that worked for me.
So now I was getting music instruction at home and at school, but let's not forget the influence of my grandparents. I called them Mema and Deeda (it was Deeda who played the zither instrument). When I'd visit them (they lived all of 3 blocks away), Mema would teach me songs about Jesus ("Jesus Loves Me," "Jesus Loves the Little Children," etc.) and then, when I would sing them to her satisfaction, she'd let me go hang out with Deeda and he'd teach me songs from his 78 rpm records, like "Old Dan Tucker" (I loved that one). He also taught me some Christian songs ("There's a Little Wheel a-Turnin' in my Heart," "Let the Sun Shine in," etc.), also from old records (all of which are now in my collection).
Then, of course, there was music instruction at church - more of the songs I'd learned at my grandparents' home, so I was already on top of the game there.
Then there was the camp experience. I went to a Christian camp for 2 years (connected to my church) and to a YWCA camp for 1 year. We sang all sorts of songs, though those first 2 years most of the songs were religious in nature and had a lot of hand movements, clapping, etc. And there were also songs connected with my brief experience in scouting (as a brownie back when I was about 9 or 10 and then again as a Mariner when I was in high school - I loved the Mariner songs, dealing with sailing, boats, etc.). So extra-curricular activities seemed to exist with music accompaniment!
When I graduated from Junior High to High School I also graduated to playing guitar. I discovered that the best way to learn the guitar (for me) was to hang out with others who also played. We'd teach each other songs and picking styles. I really had no formal guitar instruction until I was an adult, and even that was minimal. But I learned . . . brother, I learned! And with the songs and chords, I also learned to get along with people and become diplomatic. At my high school we had a Folk Song Society and I practiced regularly for my turn to play a song at the weekly meeting. It was an inspiration and motivation for me. But, as happens in all sorts of clubs, there were politics to contend with. The group disbanded for a year and then I helped get it going again, at the same time creating a "song circle" group of my own (sponsored by my church where we met once a week). That's where I learned and got my music "fix."
When I was about 10, my brother started me listening to "The Midnight Special," a radio program on WFMT in Chicago (it's still on, every Saturday night). I heard some great songs and would find copies of them (I still couldn't read music, so I'd get recordings and then work out the chords, or locate the words and chords in music books). A close friend and I would furiously write down the words of the songs we liked, making a carbon copy for the other person, creating our own music books. While other girls were getting together with friends and going to the movies or the mall, my best friend and I would get together at one house or the other and play music together.
So music was happening in my life at home, at church, at school, with friends, in extra curricular activities, at coffee houses, and, of course, by myself, in my bedroom, where I would practice for hours at a time. And the types of music varied depending on the venue in which I was participating. I always took my guitar when I went to babysit for the neighbors, so there I'd play the kids' songs. At the coffee houses and song circles at school and church I'd play protest songs. With my dad (we still did duets together) I'd do traditional folk songs. In church (when I was teaching Sunday School or doing a church program) I'd do the Gospel music. And, when I was alone, I'd often play love songs or even try my hand at writing my own.
So, at Farmer's Market in Payson, I expect I'll be doing some traditional music, some '60s folk stuff, some kids' songs, some pieces from my favorite contemporary composers, and maybe even an original song or two. Somehow I will make the segues from "Marvelous Toy" to "Down by the Riverside." And, hopefully, I'll help some of those in attendance connect with their inner musician!