“Why didn’t we do this before?”
by Steve Eulberg
That is the question I kept asking myself after we completed the final portion of our Members Retreat at Highlander this past May.
We are a union local composed of a great many song-singers and songwriters, but in my decade-plus as a member I don’t recall a time when when we have written a song together.
But I’m getting ahead of my story.
For the third time, members gathered for a few days at the historic Highlander Center, in New Market, Tennessee. They came from across the continent, this time to ponder how to “Carry It On.” How do we learn from the legacy of our brother, Pete Seeger, tilling the soil to bear his fruits in our work for this world.
We were guided by our colleagues, who were his colleagues of different cohorts: Charlie King, John McCutcheon and Spook Handy.
We dreamed of our near and long-term future as an interwoven web of musical artists, supporting and challenging each other to Carry It On.
And we concluded with a group song-writing exercise that was imagined after our brother, Si Kahn, called forth the necessary creativity for a performance earlier this Spring.
Together, we each had 15 minutes to begin a song, or to begin a parody. When the alarm sounded, we came back to share these ideas with each other.
From the parody of a sea shanty, to a work chant, to melodic ballads, to rap and a fully-worked out guitar accompaniment, we were all amazed to here what was released when we reach for it.
Agreeing to trust each other, I used the technology of my smart phone to capture all these “song seeds” before we started trying to move forward on the group part of the creation exercise.
I originally imagined that we would choose one of the songs to complete, but the gathered circle of collaborators overruled that idea: “We have everything we need with ALL of the parts that have been shared.”
Soon the ideas tumbled over each other, coming from different voices around the circle: “Tret, you’ve got the chorus!” “What about this other part as the pre-chorus?” “Steven and Elise, you have verse 2, Aaron you have verse one!” “Sandy, yours is the finish of verse 2; Renee—you’ve got the break-down, and we love that echo that you and Jeni are adding!” “Charlie, yours sounds like the last verse; Scott yours goes before that…Steve Deasy, you’ve got the melodic bridge.” “Eulberg, you got anything? Let’s weave that with the rapping part for the break-down.”
We ran through it a couple of times, then recorded the demo (which is available to be heard on our website.) All of this happened in the final couple of hours of the retreat. Then Billy Kemp offered to transcribe it so you can see it here! (And you can download it and sing it—A song By Local 1000, for Local 1000!)
The song-singers and singer-songwriters of the AFM, wrote a song together, on demand, in a short period of time. This is the kind of bringing our full selves to our art that our sister, Holly Near, challenged and encouraged us to do with her keynote in our second retreat two years ago.
Our next Gathering is scheduled for May 4-6, 2015 at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, New York.
Carry It On!