blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Songs with messages

Since I qualify as an International Woman, I went to an International Women's Day event last week on the theme of educating girls and empowering women. The entertainment was musical, some parts of it more stirring than others. In the early 20th century there had been plenty of evangelism by women of G.B. Shaw's Major Barbara stamp, keeping their minds fixed on what they wanted with the aid of songs like Bread and Roses:

[...] As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.
The Bread and Roses processional was repeated last week by a group of older ladies from Kanata in red T-shirts, eight of them wielding guitars. In the glory days there was a point to this song, female workers having to put in 54 hours a week at the factories without fair pay. The need for protest is less obvious now, unless you happen to live in more challenging parts of the world than Canada.

Keep your eyes on the Prize, hold on! continued the ladies of Kanata (and the one who was their leader extemporised, "... and get in the groove!"). That one was a civil rights liberation song from the '50s and 60s. We were all a lot younger then, of course, as was Bob Dylan, whose Blowin' in the Wind we all joined in with next, the only song of the evening that I knew, a picture of the young Mr. Dylan for inspiration alongside the words on the big screen. It was in much too low a key for me.

One song was by an environmentalist who calls herself Earth Mama, purporting to heal the planet one song at a time; it didn't grab me at all.
I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me [...]
And my shoulders will be there to hold the ones who follow me.
Do these platitudes ever do any good? Reverting to the 1960s we finished with Walt Disney's excruciating tune and lyrics It's A Small World––notre monde est tout petit (en fran├žais).

Then followed a change of atmosphere, the Cantiamo Girls' Choir of Ottawa coming forward in elegant long dresses. They began by performing "I dreamed of rain" by Jan Garrett, followed by a Hebrew part song and then the setting of Jack Layton's Letter to Young Canadians by James Wright that I'd heard sung at the City Hall last summer, accompanied by the Orkidstra. This is genuinely moving.


My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
The last two items impressed me: the accompanist's own composition, an experimental setting of the Irish folksong Maid on the Shore and another inspirational number composed by Gwyneth Walker, called The Tree of Peace, with the almost obsessive refrain, "Listen to one another, listen to one another..." (such an important command), "...Then shall the shackles fall!" That's right, and good to have impregnated into the minds of young women at that impressionable age.

Here they are singing it.

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