“There is power, there is power . . .” – A Remembrance of Joe Hill

Jimmy Tomasello, Colby Maddox, Bill Brickey and I (all teachers at the Old Town School of Folk Music) got together to sing with songwriter and activist Joe Hill this morning, on the 100th anniversary of his execution.

This portrait is by Peggy Lipschutz and hangs in the hallways of the Old Town School of Folk Music.

“There is power. There is power.”

“When will we ever learn?” – Reflections on Last Night’s Gather-All

A young man, aged 14, lead a beautiful rendition of Where Have All the Flowers Gone at last night’s Gather-All at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  He is a wonderful musician, a student, a teacher and a friend.

As he was singing I looked at him and I looked out at all of the young musicians who had come to sing and play.  “Where have all the soldiers gone?”  Tears came to my eyes.

The enlistment age is just four years away for him, and all the young musicians singing and playing their hearts out will get to that age someday, too.  In addition tough streets are recruiting young people in the neighborhoods where I teach in Chicago Public Schools and the topic of “recruiting” continues to be a big part of the discussion about violence all over the world.  There are a lot of people asking generation after generation to go off to war and they are asking for all kinds of different reasons.

What will happen in the coming years?  I looked out at all the young faces at the Gather-All and I thought of all these kids laying down their fiddles and guitars and “going to soldier.”

We can’t let that happen.  There has got be be another way.

When will we ever learn?

Exorcising and Exercising the Demons – On Learning to Play the Piano

I really, really like to play music.  And I like to improve as a musician.  That feels great.

But, I don’t practice every day.  I would like to, but I don’t.  Even though it is so much fun!  Some days it’s just too hard.  Every day  it is very hard, but some days it is TOO HARD.

And the thing that makes it too hard is not the difficulty of the pieces or that piano is too hard, it is that my ego can’t take it.  Sometimes the demons are too strong.

No matter what I do, every time I sit down at the piano (and I mean every time) I have to give myself over to the honest truth that I am not going to sound like this.

But I wanna sound like that!  IT IS FRUSTRATING!  I’ve worked and worked and I only sound like this.

Every time I even look at the piano I can feel the little demons in my stomach.  Questions come up like, “Should I even try?”  I think to myself, “It will probably never happen.  I don’t want to put myself through the pain today.  I can’t practice.”  I get frustrated and I go find something else to do.

Many times I’m able to work through all of those uncomfortable feelings, and after about 20 or 30 minutes I’m able to have a good time.  But I’m not able to work through it every time.  Sometimes my inner demons get the best of me and when they do, I don’t practice.

I write this because I have a lot of conversations with the parents of my youth guitar students.  Often they say things like “[mystery student] really loves the guitar and loves coming to class, but she never practices.  But she says that she really wants to learn.  I don’t know what to do.”

I can’t pretend to know why these students don’t want to practice at home, but I often wonder if it is for reasons that are similar to mine.  Do these young students look at their guitars and start to feel bad that they haven’t put more time in?  Do they think that others (maybe me and their parents) expect them to be further along?  Is it really that they “just want to play video games?”  Or, do they feel so much internal and external pressure to keep up that they decided to do something else, rather than be open to the vulnerability of learning.

What about you, the reader of this blog post?  Do you ever feel this way, either in terms of music or other aspects of your life?

If you have a tough time practicing, please remember that there are lots of folks like you.  And, if you’re the parent of a student who doesn’t want to practice, I recommend asking some questions to help your student figure out why.  I have a feeling that there can be some deep stuff going on in those little minds.  Maybe we can be helpful.

We’re all in it together friends.  I’m glad that we’re here to support each other.

Your Voice on the Young Stacke All-Stars Debut Album!

YSAS logoThe Young Stracke All-Stars are  recording one more song for our debut album, and we hope that you’ll sing it with us!

Sunday, December 7, 2014
9:45 to 11:30
(There will be a short lesson to learn the song, followed by the recording.)
Szold Hall – 2nd Floor
Old Town School of Folk Music
4545 N. Lincoln Ave.

Snacks and coffee will be provided.

(This is not a fundraiser or a concert.  It is a recording session!  While OTS is allowing us to use the space, this is not an OTS production.  Contact Jason McInnes at jason@jasonmcinnesmusic.com with any questions.)

The song that we are going to sing is called Simple Gifts.   Zelda, one of the members of the band describes it as being about explains, “accepting everyday things and living a simple life.”  It’s an incredible songs and we think it is perfect to feature it as a community song for the album.  Here is a downloadable pdf. of the song.  –  Simple Gifts chart

Check you these links and videos to learn how to sing the song.  We’ll be singing it in the key of C

Simple Gifts – Spotify hosts the recording that inspired us to learn this song.  It was recorded in 1963 with Win Stracke and his friends.  The recording was made for WFMT.

What follows is a recording that was made at Win Stracke’s gravestone dedication in December of 2012.

Here is a video of the All-Stars teaching part of the arrangement that we use.

Hope to see you on Dec. 7, 2014!  Please RSVP to youngstrackeallstars@jasonmcinnesmusic.com.

REPOST: Frank Hamilton Talks to the Young People of the Old Town School of Folk Music

A few years ago I wrote a note to Frank Hamilton, who I barely knew and said, “Hi. You don’t know so much about me, but I’m super-inspired by your work. Can I come sleep on your floor and ask you a bunch of questions?”

I was so honored that he, and this wife Mary gave me an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Over the years Frank and Mary have become good friends, and they’ve continued to be mentors and champions of me and my work.

It makes me feel a little awkward in parts, but I am still so proud of this video that we made on their front porch. It’s message rings truer and truer to me every day. I hope you enjoy it.

And, I hope you’ll come out to the Old Town School of Folk Music tonight to sing and play with me, Mary, Frank, the Young Stracke All-Stars, and so many wonderful musicians and friends from the Old Town School of Folk Music. We’ll be celebrating a mentor to us all, Pete Seeger.