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Posts Tagged ‘folk music’

summer sunset view porch

I hear a bird chirpin’ up in the sky
I’d like to be free like that, spread my wings so high
I hear the river flowin’, water runnin’ by
I’d like to be that river, see what I might find

—”Bird Song,” The Wailin’ Jennys

I stood at the kitchen sink late one night last month, plunging my hands in their purple rubber gloves under the stream of hot running water. I was tired from a long workday, answering emails and wrangling story assignments, and a long evening at home, taking care of other tasks.

I reached for a turquoise sponge, scrubbing bits of food off crusted plates and greasy pans. My smartphone sat on the ledge above the sink, playing this song on repeat, Heather Masse’s voice lilting along the familiar lyrics. Every time I hear her sing it, I can see her in a blue dress, swaying onstage at the Indian River Festival in PEI, three summers ago. My shoulders drop, and I exhale.

My musical taste tends toward the soulful and quiet: most of my favorite musicians are singer-songwriters who tell true stories with their notes and words. (The notable exception to this is Hamilton, but I tend to eschew the driving rock beats and funky mashups my husband loves.) I have a particular fondness for a handful of bands and solo artists, whose words and tunes have wound around my heart, knit themselves into the fabric of my soul.

This year, I’ve found myself turning often to a few beloved songs, as a balm, a solace when the world is too much, too fast, too insistent, too loud. I’ve begun to think of them not simply as my favorites, but as grown-up lullabies.

We sing lullabies to children, of course: to soothe a fractious baby or smooth a fidgety toddler’s way toward sleep. My nephews ask, over and over again, for the songs they have heard all their lives: “Edelweiss,” “General Froggie,” “Three Little Kitties.” My dad used to sing the latter two to my sister and me: his mother, my Mimi, also sang them to him and his brothers when they were small. (I love that these old folk lullabies are three generations strong in my family.)

It’s been years since anyone sang me a lullaby in the usual sense. But these days, “Bird Song” and a handful of other quiet, lilting songs are my lullabies: they soothe my anxious soul when the hurt and the frustration are beyond logic, beyond explaining.

Some of them are gentle folk ballads, sung by the Wailin’ Jennys, Grace Pettis, Hem, or my college friends Alex and Kara (known as the Light Parade). Some are old hymns that live deep in my bones: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “I Love to Tell the Story,” or “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” Some are the last remnants of the Christian pop music I loved as a teenager and have never entirely outgrown: words from Nichole Nordeman and other wise voices. And a few are newer songs that periodically lodge in my soul: the Magnificat, in particular, never fails to soothe me, and Annie Lennox’s “Into the West” has a kind of distant magic.

These songs aren’t an instant cure for what ails me, or the world: I know singing a few verses won’t heal all wounds. But they are a salve for my weary soul, a way to quiet my running mind and gentle my anxious heart. I sometimes find myself matching my steps to the rhythm of these familiar voices, or swaying slightly as I stand at the kitchen sink, as though I were rocking a baby to sleep.

I’ve come to believe that grown-ups need nurturing too, and we often have to provide it for ourselves. These lullabies, and the peace they bring, are saving my life these days.

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My husband is a music fanatic. (It’s one of the things that brought us together.) He’s forever discovering new bands, and while he was a good sport about visiting Green Gables with me, he was really excited about the fact that summer in PEI is music-festival season.

With a bit of help from our guidebook (and a bit of Internet research), we snagged tickets to two concerts, which were quite different from one another, but equally amazing.

We drove through a light rain on Friday night to New London, a village down the road from where we were staying. The concert we attended was part of PEI’s annual Festival of Small Halls, which draws musicians from PEI and many other places.

Our concert featured three groups: the Gawler Sisters (who hail from Maine), the wonderfully named Ten Strings and a Goat Skin (local PEI boys), and the Rua Macmillan Trio – a Scottish fiddler accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer.

gawler sisters small halls pei

From the moment the Gawler Sisters (above) stepped on stage (with a dizzying array of instruments between them) to the last note of the encore (played by all three groups on stage together, below), it was a wonderful, mesmerizing night. We tapped our toes and clapped, laughed at some truly awful music-related puns, and tried to pick our jaws up off the floor as the fiddlers’ fingers flew faster and faster. We bought the Gawler Sisters’ album and I’ve been humming the songs ever since.

festival of small halls pei

On Sunday, we headed a bit farther west for a rather different music experience, in the gorgeous and light-filled St. Mary’s Church.

st mary's church indian river pei

The Wailin’ Jennys, whom I discovered in Starbucks (no kidding) a few years ago, were kicking off the Indian River Festival. We had fourth-row seats to watch them sing and play, and it was dazzling.

wailin jennys pei

Soulful lyrics, layered harmonies, string-and-drum witchery. All three women were so warm and lovely that I wanted to be friends with them. And toward the end of the night, they came down from the stage and stood on the steps – the room’s acoustic “sweet spot” – and sang two songs a cappella, including my favorite, “Long Time Traveler.” I could have listened all night long.

More (more!) PEI stories and photos to come.

 

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You may have noticed I’ve been missing home this winter. The weather, the distance, the long months of unemployment followed by the transition to a new job – all have had me missing the familiarity of Abilene. Which is perhaps why two songs on the subject have lodged in my heart and stayed there.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes have been everywhere recently with their folk hit, “Home.” Just watch this beautiful video of a dad and his little daughter singing it and tell me you aren’t sold:

Closer to (my) home, a college acquaintance of mine (Brandon Kinder, who also sings lead for the Rocketboys) recently released an EP, and as a sneak peek, released the music video for a song also called “Home”:

Two lines in these songs, one from each, get me every time. The first, sung repeatedly among all that whistling, is “Home is wherever I’m with you.” I am lucky, I know, to have people in Boston with whom I feel at home – most notably my sweet husband, and our fellow Abilene transplants. (I’ve talked so much about them because I have, literally, clung to them – they are not only kind and funny and wise, but they represent that familiarity I miss.) And I/we have made new friends with whom we also feel at home, and in whose presence we can relax, open up, laugh, cry, be known.

The other line, from Brandon’s song, hits me with more poignancy: “You’re never gonna be that far away from home.” I know in my bones it’s true, in important ways – home is something you carry with you; home is people, not always a place (see above); those people I love in Texas/Nashville/Oxford/all over the place are still home to me, and we’re not that far away, in the grand scheme of things.

But there have been so many times this winter when it hasn’t felt true. When it has felt like we’re a million miles from Abilene and our families and the life we used to have. When I have wondered if Boston will ever feel like home, and if we’ll ever get back home, to wide sunset skies and Tex-Mex food and Friday nights filled with high school football.

I still don’t know the answers to those questions – though I have a suspicion Boston will eventually begin to feel like home. Until then, I’ll be holding both these songs close, thankful for the people who make that Edward Sharpe lyric true for me. And trying with all my heart to believe Brandon’s words…to trust that home is often so much closer than I think it is.

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