Famed musician Bootsy Collins was guesting on a morning radio show during the holidays when the interviewer remembered that Bootsy had been honored by Cincinnati’s School for the Performing Arts during the school’s graduation ceremonies last year, and remarked that she was especially impressed by the impromptu remarks Bootsy uttered following reception of the award. After Bootsy admitted that he had been surprised and moved by the honor and had no idea what he had said, he was reminded that he had offered this sage advice for achieving success: “Don’t worry about what anybody else is doing; just hit your note.”
What a pearl of wisdom, a direct admonition that applies to almost any situation one encounters in life. Regardless of barriers, impediments, and other complicating factors, always remember that you are responsible for doing your part, for hitting your note; just imagine what could be accomplished in the world if everyone abided by this simple directive.
I recently read Protest Singer, a little book offering an intimate portrait of one of my very favorite artists, iconic folk singer Pete Seeger, a man who always hits his note. Pete became enthralled with folk music at a young age, finding that these songs had all the meat of human life in them. Although victories are sometimes celebrated, folk music “exposes a lot of dark corners.” Folk songs are “tragic rather than sentimental, scandalous rather than cute, and basically unconcerned with being elegant or clever.” They contain every kind of trouble known to humankind and are often sung by people to inspire courage within themselves and to console themselves for losses and defeats and suffering and hardship.
As a firm believer in the admittedly naïve concept that music is essential to life and can when properly employed change the world for the better, I have long admired Pete’s remarkable ability to actually achieve positive change through his songs. Included in the book’s appendix was a list created by Pete’s father, musicologist Charles Seeger, enumerating the purposes of music, a list that I’m sure influenced Pete’s career path and activism. Number one on that list is: “Music, as any art, is not an end in itself, but is a means of achieving a larger end.” Pete Seeger is known as a performer who does not view his work as his career, as the word career implies that fame and fortune are the ultimate goals, whereas he has a life’s purpose which far exceeds such mendacious rewards.
John Cronin, a university professor who has known Seeger for thirty-five years, sometimes asks Pete to address students enrolled in a course entitled “Citizen Advocacy in the Evolution of Democracy” because he feels that the folk singer is a walking history of the role of citizen, a man who has supported advocacy and thereby changed democracy. Pete believes that he is an implement for delivering songs which people can sing for themselves, and that songs are effective methods of bending people to a just cause. He is famous for his abilities as a song leader, leading crowds of people to feel themselves part of a collective identity, uniting disparate people in a common goal. His songs can make one feel powerful, inspire belief that with other like-spirited people, one can achieve great things.
And sometimes one can – just hit your note, and see what happens!
Marilyn Delk is a Director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.