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Yesterday’s post paid homage to composers skilled enough to write songs that people sing as they walk down the street.  In the last 100 years no one has written more songs sung by people I know than Pete Seeger, who died yesterday at 94.

“If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn Turn Turn,” “We Shall Overcome” – my goodness, what a legacy.

I heard him just once in the flesh, at a solo concert at the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore in the early 80s.  I went with Susan and the harpist Deborah Fleisher (Susan and Deborah were playing a lot together at the time), and I remember being lukewarm about going because I’m not a sing-along kind of guy.  It turned out to be incredibly fun.

This was over 30 years ago and Pete was already claiming that his voice was not as strong as it once was and that he needed the audience’s help to carry the songs.  His invitation to participation on the basis of needing help instantly galvanized the audience, and made them into a remarkably responsive group. I sang with conviction, with none of the sense that this “wasn’t my thing.”

The other enduring impression about the concert was that there was something about Seeger’s characteristic head-thrown-back singing posture and vocal intensity that made the lyrics of his songs come across as facts, not opinions.  The songs weren’t “about” important things like justice – about what might happen if everyone believed as you believed – but action statements.  The power was in the singing.  Singing was the action.

Like the most penetrating light, Seeger’s life had true coherence.  His smallest actions were consistent with his biggest dreams.  I wonder if he ever met or knew of John MacMurray – the two men were definitely on the same wavelength – who wrote “All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship.”

A friend of the earth and of humankind, Seeger’s life was – and his legacy is – a blessing to all of us.

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