Club News

Musical Meetings

Musical meetings of the San Francisco Folk Music Club are held every other Friday at 885 Clayton Street, between Carl & Parnassus Streets in San Francisco. Singing and jamming in three separate rooms start at 8:00 p.m. Snacks are provided through $1 food kitty donations or finger food contributions. Guests are always welcome, no one is expected to “perform” and there is no charge.

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Date January 2 January 16 January 30 February 13 February 27
Setup Susan Wilde Debbie Klein Debbie Klein Melissa Sarenac Melissa Sarenac
Bulletin Board Debbie Klein Dave Sahn Estelle Freedman Debbie Klein Yvette Tannenbaum
Host/ess Cynthia Johnson Beth B Tes Welborn Paula Joyce Yvette Tannenbaum
Host/ess Marisa Malvino Cynthia Johnson Melissa Sarenac Joe Lavelle Pazet Zohar
Singing Room Debbie Klein Marlene McCall Joy Salatino Yvette Tannenbaum Tes Welborn
Theme Winter, snow, cold Beginnings & endings Weather Traditional Work/labor movement
Cleanup Morgan Cowin Paula Joyce Marlene McCall Morgan Cowin Faith

Board Meetings

The SFFMC board meets on the second Tuesday of each month — potluck at 6:30 p.m., meeting at 8:00 p.m. All Club members are welcome to attend the potluck dinner and the Board meeting.

NEXT FOLKNIK FOLD-IN/FOLK SING: Sunday 3/1/09, at Abe and Joan Feinberg’s

Club News

Elaine Belkind writes in to tell us that her daughter Isabel Belkind, whom some of you may remember from Camp Harmony, was married to Carlos Pineda on June 3 in SF City Hall, but they just had the reception on November 15th! They’re in Palo Alto — he’s a resident at Stanford while she is working at Kaiser Santa Clara. Also, Elaine has been working on several sculptures based on ballads and songs. They include “Kemp Owen,” “King Orfeo,” “Twa Sisters,” “Tam Lin,” and “The Earl of Mars’ Daughter.” Most of them have supernatural themes. She also has made several sculptures of mermaids and selkies. Some time soon, she plans to combine pictures of the sculptures with lyrics from the songs (and maybe put them on her Facebook page).

Nina Feldman writes that the campaign to get Pete Seeger nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is still going strong. The petition now has over 20,000 signatures — pass the wor to sign it at www.nobelprize4pete.org. Also, Nina’s husband and fellow club member Chris Grampp has publishe From Yard to Garden: The Domestication of America’s Home Grounds on how yards have evolved in America, including the changes brought about by the invention of indoor plumbing and the streetcar. Reviewed in August’s SF Chronicle The Dirt, the book is available in Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore an Builder’s Booksource in Berkeley, or fro www.amazon.com.

Lou and Peter Berryman’s new Big Songbook is out. Music and notations by Lou, words and illustrations by Peter who, in case you didn’t already know it, is a great cartoonist Cost is $35 + shipping ($3 book rate, $6 priority) from www.louandpeter.com or mail check to Box 3400, Madison, WI 53704. Info 608-257-7750. Also, the Berrymans are appearing at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley on January 24.

Long-time SFFMC member Ron Adams has suffered health problems and is now living in the Eskaton Manzanita nursing facility near Sacramento. Some folkies have been visiting him and his partner Jane Jackson from time to time, and we usually arrange to sing and play for all of the home’s residents and some staf as well as Ron. Many enjoy singing along on “Clementine, “You Are My Sunshine,” and similar golden oldies. In November we were joined by members of the Sacramento Singing Circle, and that was a great hit. Our next musical visit will be Saturday, January 10th at 10:30 a.m. — and if any of you would like to join us contact Joan Feinberg or Marian Gade 510-524-9815), for time and place.

The folknik crew received Thanksgiving greetings from Nancy Borsdorf in Oroville and the ghost of Jimmy Borsdorf.

Pete Seeger Radio Documentary on CDs

by Steve Gilford

I heard only part of one of the programs on the radio. It was so good that I went home and ordered the 3-CD set. You can order the set at peteseeger.org/shop/purchase.php for $19.95 + S&H. Info below is condensed from the website.

Program 1: Rediscovering America’s Folk Music. The origins of Pete’s family — the 18th-century immigration from Germany to New England, and his musicologist parents, Charles and Constance Seeger. Pete’s brothers took violin and piano lessons, but he was left to the ukulele. He grew up during the Depression amidst the folk music revival of the ’30s & ’40s, with Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and Woody Guthrie. Hitchhiking with a banjo during his youth, he started collecting folk music, eventually recording 124 albums and CDs that shape our repertoire — the songs whose words we know, that we sing aloud. Highlights: ♦Interviews with Pete’s father Charles Seeger, first to teach folk music at an American college. ♦Featured: Arlo Guthrie, Holly Near, Si Kahn ♦Seeger discusses his first song, “66 Highway Blues.”

Program 2: Folk Songs & Ballads – Bringing Folk Music Alive. Pete’s role in the folk music revival of the ’50s and ’60s, starting with the Almanac Singers, who sang labor, peace songs and anti-Nazi songs, and continuing with the Weavers, a best-selling musical group in the ’50s before they were blacklisted. Seeger promoted folk music from many American traditions. The musical emphasis here is ethno-musicological, on old-timey banjo tunes and on pop-folk crossover songs of the Weavers. Highlights: ♦Stories from Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, and Lee Hays about The Almanac Singers and The Weavers. ♦Previously secret files reveal a history of FBI and CIA surveillance of the Hootenanny crowd. ♦Interviews with Don McLean, the Weavers.

Program 3: Topical & Protest Songs — Keeping a Tradition Alive.i Music is a barometer of the times. In the ’60s, Seeger’s life was galvanized by music of the civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. Musicians such as Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio were first inspired to sing folk and topical songs by Pete Seeger. Though blacklisted from network television, he was eventually honored by the NEA’s Medal of Arts and a Grammy. Today, bluegrass, blues, and folk festivals continue, bringing the folksongs Seeger taught to a younger generation. Pete Seeger’s legacy is continued by singers like Ani DiFranco, Bruce Springsteen, and the Dixie Chicks. Highlights: ♦Rare recordings of Seeger’s Civil Rights era songs. ♦Featured artists: Judy Collins, Oscar Brand. ♦Pete talks about environmental activism.

Folkies Weigh In

by John Kelly

The age of topical songs has not ended, if YouTube and the Harmony email list are any indication. During the recent presidential campaign, YouTube was rife with music videos lampooning or praising one side or the other. Clean White T's “Hey There Delilah” was the mother of at least half a dozen comments on Sarah Palin; the pick of the litter was probably M.C. Howie and Julie K's “Hey Sarah Palin,” which begins:

Hey Sarah Palin, do you tell them in Wasilla
That four thousand years ago we roamed the planet with Godzilla . . . ?

(view and listen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DIc8jdra0o; for a G-rated version, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuB8O1ll01U.)

Like the broadside writers of the last four centuries, the bards of YouTube use the technology and tunes of their day to propel their message; the accompanying instrument may be a guitar or a karaoke machine, and the tune is likely to be familiar from popular media – radio, television, and of course YouTube itself.

This is pretty amusing for those of us who remember the dire predictions of the 1960s. Modern technology was supposed to snuff out individual creativity; by this time we were all supposed to immobile on our couches, permanently curled up in the fetal position, passively absorbing pap from Big Money's media machine. Turns out we're more creative, and more interested in each other's creations, than was suspected back then.

The Harmony email list (lists.sffmc.org/mailman/listinfo.cgi/harmony) also saw a spate of songs about California's controversial Proposition 8, which would eliminate same-sex couples’ right to marry. Yvette Tannenbaum started things with a song based on “The Colored Aristocracy”; it's so short it can be quoted in its entirety:

Just say no on 8
Please don’t hesitate
Fundamental rights
For folks of different strokes
Be sure to vote no on 8
Just vote no on 8

Denis Franklin replied at more length with:

I don't care if you’re gay or straight,
Nor does it matter with whom you mate,
But as for marriage, for millennia the word’s
Been on hetero sexes conferred.
[ . . . ]
Let your mortal souls be stirred,
But please; find another word.

The ensuing debate included several more stanzas, whole songs, and a lot of prose, some of it heated; in less than two days the discussion reached Godwin's Limit (references to Nazi Germany).

I would say folkies are an opinionated bunch, but a look at YouTube reveals a bunch no less opinionated. Maybe we could even call them folkies; it's not hard to trace the line from the bards of pre-literate societies, through the writers of broadsides, to today's creators of songs transmitted by email (a medium which is beginning to look positively quaint) and web-based video.

Mudcat Cafe

by Joe Offer,

I am a folk song addict. I started out on Peter, Paul and Mary but, as the song says, “I soon hit the harder stuff.” In fact, it was Paul Stookey who introduced me to the harder stuff. He had a copy of the Digital Tradition (DT) Folk Song Database on his computer, and I soon installed a copy on my own computer. I found the songs in the DT to be far more interesting and challenging than the stuff I’d learned from PP&M and Kingston Trio records.

In 1996, Max Spiegel opened his Delta Blues website as home to the DT database, and started a discussion forum so folks could submit and request lyrics. He called the website the Mudcat Café, and he was its first “bartender,” assisted by Dick Greenhaus & Susan Friedman of DT. I joined Mudcat in 1997, became a moderator, and since then I’ve been the primary “people contact person.” Mudcat is non-hierarchical, so my function at Mudcat is somewhat undefined — but I do it very well, and have a great time doing it. Annually since 1999, I’ve attended SFFMC’s Camp Harmony and the Getaway of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, partly to get to know the people I’ve met at Mudcat. I have even made trips to England and Ireland to meet Mudcatters and enjoy their music.

Mudcat has become a worldwide community of folk musicians and fans, with 22,547 registered members and many guests who stop in to look up a song or add a comment. We’ve had almost 2.5 million message posted, and over 116,000 discussion threads on a wide spectrum of topics. Participants may spend time in our “BS” sectio , discussing anything under the sun, and we’ve had Mudcat romances including one or two that ended up in marriage. As for me, I stay for the folk music, and my favorite threads are the song threads. If we research a song, we do so thoroughly, and we often come up with ten different versions of the lyrics. If we can’t find a song, we keep looking even if it takes years. Along the way, we learn fascinating stories about the songs, the singers and the songmakers. I started a thread on the songs of Jean Ritchie, and Jean Ritchie herself has been helping me with it. Art Thieme (Chicago), Kendall Morse (Maine) and John Roberts (England & US) have often helped us with song research, telling us marvelous stories about the backgrounds of songs. Eliza Carthy is an occasional participant, as is former Weavers member Frank Hamilton. These are only a few of the moderately well-known folk musicians who have participated in Mudcat discussions.

If you haven’t seen the Mudcat Cafe stop and visit us on the Internet at www.mudcat.org. You’ll find we’re a great resource for folk lyrics and music information, a worldwide folk community where nobody stays a stranger for long.

The Music: How It All Began

by Robert Rodriquez

It’s hard to know which came first, the musical chicken or the tale-telling egg. It is enough to know that both the making of music and the telling of tales are both very old expressions of the human condition. It is therefore no surprise that world folklore contains many stories that tell how music began, going back before recorded history itself.

Finland’s great epic, the Kalevala, tells how the first man in Finland, the mighty hero and far-seeing magician Väinämöinen, first brought music-making to the Finns when he created the first kantele harp from the body of a great pike. This harp was destroyed and replaced by one made from the wood of an enchanted birch tree and became a central point in the story of the theft of the sun and the moon from the sky by the mistress of Pojola, the wicked enchantress Luhi.

In Aztec tradition, music didn’t exist among people but was the property of the lord of the sun. That changed when Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god, visited the house of the sun, appropriated the art of making music, and managed to bring it back to the people, where it has been ever since.

The Greco-Roman god of music, Apollo, created the first lyre and shared its magic and beauty with mortals.

In a story from Vietnam, the emperor had a daughter who had never spoken, smiled or laughed. He issued an imperial decree proclaiming that any man who could change that situation would marry her and become ruler of the kingdom. A poor hunter saved a fox from a forest trap, only to discover that the fox was actually a blessed celestial from heaven, who gave the hunter a beautiful Vietnamese butterfly harp, the instrument that would become Vietnam’s national music-maker. The hunter went before the emperor and played the harp, making the princess smile, laugh and speak for the first time, and he eventually became the emperor. In a legend among the Romany of Eastern Europe, God himself, to avoid a possible conflict between two groups of hostile clans, ordered St. Peter to come down to earth and introduce music into Roma culture and tradition. The gypsies got music for the first time and a possible war was stopped.

Indigenous peoples of North and South America tell how music came to the world of men in the form of love flutes and other courting instruments given to the people by such heroes as Coyote, Raven, and Buffalo Woman. These musical instruments aided in the coming together of many couples in the happy bonds of love and marriage. Other stories often have a drum being given to the people by a local demigod, a sacred animal, or even a trickster figure with great powers of creation and transformation.

The array of stories goes on and on, from all over the world, telling of how a variety of musical instruments came into being, from the West African kora to the kayagum found in ancient Korea, from the veena in Indian musical tradition to pan-pipes from the remote mountains of South America to the distant plains of eastern Europe and the Balkans.

The world folk tradition shows just how important music and the telling of tales have been to the very fabric of human development and behavior. Whether introduced to the world of mortals by sacred animals, divine culture heroes, or local transformative trickster figures, we mortals have been happily making music for a very long time, and hopefully will continue to do so for a long time to come.