Let me sound like your grandfather for a moment with a line you’ve likely heard before — “Why, when we were kids growing up in the 1960s, all we had were our voices, we’d sing while riding our bikes and go to a local hootenanny and sing songs popularized by Pete Seeger and The Kingston Trio.”
These days smartphones, video games and the once-a-year campground fireside sing-a-long have replaced our children’s opportunities to find their singing voices.
OK so let’s back up for a moment. For all of you born after, say 1970, a hootenanny was a gathering at which folk singers entertained with the audience frequently joining in.
Folk music was played in coffee houses (Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ founder, was only seven years old in 1960 and probably didn’t drink coffee) and living room gatherings. Everyone sang along.
And while you may recognize Pete Seeger’s name you may not know The Kingston Trio. Here’s a bit of history.
Billboard magazine’s music bio says this about The Kingston Trio, “From 1957 until 1963 the Kingston Trio were the most vital and popular folk group in the world, and folk music was sufficiently popular as to make that a significant statement. Equally important, the original trio — Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds, and Bob Shane — in tandem with other, similar early acts such as the Limeliters, spearheaded a boom in the popularity of folk music that suddenly made the latter important to millions of listeners who previously had ignored it.”
You may be familiar with one of the trio’s most famous tunes. “Tom Dooley” became a single in July 1958, spent four months on the Billboard Top Ten chart, and sold over three million copies (records folks….those vinyl disks your parents have stored in the closet.)
“Tom Dooley” became so successful that it became the basis for a feature film, “The Legend of Tom Dooley” starring Michael Landon (of “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie” show fame.)
So what does this dive back into folk music history have to do with helping local children find their singing voices?
Last week, Redmond was graced with the talents of two well-known folk music artists. Josh Reynolds, the son of Nick Reynolds, the late co-founder of The Kingston Trio, and Al Hirsch, who describes himself as a “storyteller, musician, puppeteer, historian, and grandfather.”
The pair took time out of their busy schedules to visit the Redmond Experience Activity Connection Hub, or REACH, last week to bring a one-of-a-kind musical experience to the young people who participate in REACH’s summer activities. For two days they led two sessions a day for different age groups.
This musical experience fit perfectly with REACH, a nonprofit afterschool program. Fee and donation-based, not supported by state or federal funding, REACH endeavors to connect children with educational, recreational, and artistic resources within the community.
“One of our wonderful donors has given us a significant amount of money to be directed toward music and art programs so this program follows right in line with that wish,” Executive Director Jenny O’Keefe said.
And to top it off, Josh and Al volunteered their time and didn’t charge REACH a dime.
Credit also needs to be given to the Redmond Community Concert Association for finding and bringing Josh and Al to Redmond.
Jay and Alyce Jantzen, actively involved with the association for many years, cite the passion of their board members as the driving force bringing musical experiences to the community.
“To be able to be involved with filling the musical void of music in schools is just wonderful. When they cut back funds it’s the music programs that get cut. Younger kids, kindergarten on, benefit the most, music helps them to learn others things as well,” Alyce said.
“We’re planning to do more of these extended outreaches, as funding allows, in the future,” Jay added.
Featuring ukuleles and sing-alongs, Josh and Al played and taught the children hit songs from The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, and other folk artists.
Having attended one of the sessions, it was clear that the children were both entertained and inspired. Holding, touching, and strumming instruments was a big part of the experience.
Both Josh and Al, having been so positively impacted by music at an early age, devote a good portion of their lives to helping children find their “singing voices.”
Josh Reynolds grew up in the world of folk music, listening to family living room music jams, but his musical journey didn’t really begin until 2008. Eventually he took over the “family business,” The Kingston Trio.
“My passion for helping children find their musical voices comes from my early years. I had been attending The Kingston Trio fantasy camps for many years, a lot of people helped me and opened up my eyes to what the possibilities were musically,” Josh said. “After my father died in 2008, and I put the work in, I wanted to give that back to the world by using The Kingston Trio brand.”
One of Josh’s passions is obtaining instruments, ukuleles and guitars, to give to children who want to learn to play, but do not have the resources financially to buy an instrument.
Today, Josh has stepped into his father’s role in the Kingston Trio. With his two friends, Mike Marvin and Tim Gorelangton, the trio has scheduled sixty performances over the next year.
Seattle-based Hirsch has been writing songs, playing for children, encouraging and teaching them to sing for over 40 years. He even played with Seeger.
“Getting children to sing is basic education that’s not happening. It should be happening but it’s not,” Al said.
This musical “outreach” partnership was a first for Josh and Al. Having met just a few months ago, they are learning from each other the best way to create positive musical experiences for young people.
“I knew I couldn’t do this alone, The Kingston Trio couldn’t do it alone, so when Al and I hit it off I knew I had found the best guy to give me advice about how to get America up and singing again,” Josh said.
The pair was going to evaluate how the REACH sessions went to help them plan their future outreach activities around the country and the world.
“I think the plan is already set,” Al said. “The goal is to get America singing again. Get America Singing Again may be the program name.”
Hootenannies with young people, before Kingston Trio concerts, may just become part of the group’s tours.
It’s clear that Josh and Al are hoping that a folk music revival will sweep across America. And getting children involved now may just be the catalyst.
“I remember my father always saying that Everybody Sings. That’s really our goal, to get people singing again,” Josh said.
— Reporter: 541-548-2185, firstname.lastname@example.org