Monday, March 16, 2009

iPod-o-phobia and the Fate of Music

I watched an American Masters episode on PBS this weekend called "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song".  I have never really paid much attention to Pete Seeger as a performing artist, but I know that he is responsible for many of the folk songs I loved so much as a child.  

Coming up in the early 1970s (or becoming concious of music in 1972 to be more specific), there was still a wild array of music converging from the Vietnam protests, R&B, popular music, country, rock, etc.  I feel lucky to have been exposed to so many types of music, so many singers, so many songs.  My parents had an 8-track player with a copy of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's Greatest Hits (one of the greatest albums of all time), a reel-to-reel with a variety of Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, Kenny Rogers, some musicals...all the music my parents loved, and we had the radio - in the car, in the house, in the back yard.

I think the idea of iPods are great - I have one...I love the idea of having the whole season of shows in a portable device so that if I lose the CDs during the year, I still have the music in a location I can find.  HOWEVER - the fact that we can just download 4,000 songs onto our iPods removes the power and exposure of radio and the ability of parents to pass down their music to the next generation in many ways. 

Obviously, each generation has their own music - I'm not disputing this, but I think it is healthy for people to listen to music together, to sing together, to enjoy debates about artists, albums and songs they are listening to together.  iPods are another way of isolating ourselves from others - in a different way than cd players/walkmen.  The iPod can keep you busy for DAYS without coming up for air - not good for the ears or for the psyche.

One of the things that I related to in the "Power of Song" program on PBS was the conversation about participation - most folk music involves the performer involving the audience as participants.  It brings an audience together when they sing together, love a song together.  Are we going to come to a place where we don't really even share songs in common across ages, genders, ethnicities?  Did we ever really do that or am I just romanticizing the past and being old-farty?

I'm not a great singer, but I love to sing.  About 10 years ago (maybe longer), I was invited to a concert by a local group called Motherlode.  Four women who have been singing together for years.  It was during the Measure 9 campaign to legalize discrimination against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. - an extremely difficult time for us all in the NW.  Anyway, I went to the concert, not knowing any of their music and at one point, they sang a song called "Everything Possible" and EVERY PERSON in the audience knew the song except for me.  They all sang it to the rooftops and it was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in a concert - to be in the space when everyone connects on that level and to hear the passion, the love, the heart coming from all those people singing. Amazing.  I guess I just hope we aren't giving up experiences like that so that we can listen to our iPod in solitude.

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