COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has disrupted everything. IPR's Karen Impola, who hosts the Folk Tree, says she finds music a big source of comfort and has some recommendations.
Music is a big source of comfort; I find that fixing a certain stanza or chorus of a song in my head helps me get through the day. Here are five videos of songs to sustain, encourage, and uplift us all in these trying times.
Indiana native Carrie Newcomer first performed live on KUNI (one of Iowa Public Radio’s precursor stations) in the 1980’s as part of the band Stone Soup. Since starting her solo career in 1991, she has graced our airwaves multiple times. “Lean In Toward the Light” appeared on her 2016 album “The Beautiful Not Yet," and the official video for the song illustrates its message of hope: “Shadows of this world will say ‘There’s no hope. Why try anyway?’But every kindness, large or slight, shifts the balance toward the light.”
This song was written by Pete Seeger, who needs no introduction. It was performed live by his sister Peggy at the BBC Radio 2014 Folk Music Awards, which happened shortly after Pete’s death. You’ll notice that Peggy sings the words quite a bit differently than Pete did on his recorded versions. That’s the folk process in action. The message remains the same. Accompanying Peggy Seeger on guitar and fiddle are two of my favorite British folk musicians, Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza.
This one is for all the medical workers and first responders, who are life-savers even in ordinary times. It’s also for the grocery clerks, truck drivers, janitors, and others who we usually don’t notice, but now realize are essential to our health and safety as well. Lastly, it’s for everyone who sees a need and steps in to fill it, whether it be giving blood, shopping for an elderly neighbor, or sewing facemasks for hospitals that request them. May we all continue to see the day beyond the horizon and do what must be done.
Sydney Carter wrote this one, about the 14th-century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich. It’s performed by the Albion Christmas Band, featuring vocalist Kellie Whiles. The spoken introduction gives more information about both the author and the subject of the song. It seems ironically appropriate that Mother Julian spent much of her life in seclusion, and yet the song is one of optimism. I find myself singing this in my head as “All will be well, I’m telling you, let the virus come and go. All shall be well again, I know.” There’s that folk process again. I encourage you to take any song you know, tweak it to fit your situation, and sing it to sustain yourself.
We’ll end with a high-energy one: Chicago’s Henhouse Prowlers with a bluegrassified version of Jackie Wilson’s 1967 R & B hit. It’s a song about romantic love, but it could just as easily refer to the love we share with our family and friends. In this time of social distancing - or as I prefer to think of it, “physical distancing, but social connectedness” - keep reaching out to your loved ones by phone, email, and social media, and we will get through this together.
Folk Tree listeners, I would love to hear what songs you take comfort in these days.
Also, Iowa musicians, please send videos you would like to share and I’ll include them in a future post. Keep in touch! Feel welcome to email me at email@example.com.