For the last thirty-five years I have spent my workday teaching undergraduate and graduate students the intricacies of business and marketing. By night, however, I’ve been strumming a guitar and singing folksongs at local coffeehouses and folk venues first in the Boston area, and then in central Pennsylvania. I try to bring more to the stage than just music. I am a storyteller, a folklorist and above all a seasoned teacher. From the ancient ballad, to the newest song that I’ve just composed, my years in front of both classes and audiences have honed my ability to draw the listener in and impart a deeper connection with the music. Now, I’m stepping away from the days in the classroom to fully devote my time to creating and sharing with others the music that I love. As I prepare a song for performance I also prepare the “story” behind that song. Since I sing very few recognizable covers (a personal presentation of a song identified with another), it is clear that the audience will know little, if anything, about the songs that I sing.
This is where all of those years as a teacher and an academic researcher come into play. It only takes a minute or two to properly introduce a song. However, sometimes the preparation of that introduction takes as long or longer than it took to learn the song itself. The sharing of this background research is intended to provide the listener with, hopefully, an enhanced experience. For example, I have recently been developing a series of songs that are thematically linked around the human costs of war and slavery. Several of these songs date from the 1860s, while several others in the series have their roots in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, the various themes found in the lyrics are universal and, unfortunately, continue to be indicative of current human and societal failures. Only through an understanding of events extant with the lyrics can the audience best appreciate the message or concept that I am trying to convey through linking these songs. I spend time discussing just what it is that I am to say through the stories told in and behind the music…
• “I’ll See You in the Morning, Martin” – written in the 1970s and the 2000s – stresses the unfinished work of the civil rights movement and MLK’s non-violent approach to protest
• “Bid Em In” – while written in the 1950s, dramatically brings forth the cruelty toward, and the disregard of, slaves in the 1850s – the treatment of humans as a commodity – the race based sense of superiority and inferiority
• “Brown Baby” – also written in the 1950s – brings out the common bond of love (across all races) for a child and the hope for a better future for a brown baby
• “Two Brothers” – written in the 1960s to highlight the Civil War reality of a family divided between the North and the South
• “Rally Round the Flag” – written in the Civil War era and used in the election campaign of Abraham Lincoln – with slight modification could be used as a current day song of patriots
• “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again / Johnny I hardly Knew Ye” – American song from the Civil War period – The Irish version of about the same time – Two very different visions of war, heroism, sacrifice.