On a shelf in my kitchen is a collection of teapots. I have been a modest collector for twenty years. There is no purpose to the collection; I choose what pleases me. Many are gifts and each of these special ones has a note tucked inside that tells who gave them to me and on what occasion.
One of these dear teapots belonged to my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother. My mother was given it the year that I was born. When I hold it in my hands, I imagine their hands as they held it and poured a cup of tea for their families in places far, far from me. As I do the same, they draw near to me.
Folksongs are like heirlooms or keepsakes…or teapots. They are treasures that are passed down, sometimes a little worse for the wear. When you sing them, you draw near to those who walked before you and through life experiences that you can only wonder at.
Poet Carl Sandburg was a collector of folksongs. In the introduction to his American Songbag, he wrote of this tome of nearly five hundred pages of American folksongs that he’d amassed:
There is a human stir throughout the book with the heights and depths to be found in Shakespeare. A wide human procession marches through these pages. The rich and the poor; robbers, murderers, hangmen; fathers and wild boys; mothers with soft words for their babies; workmen on railroads, steamboats, ships; wanderers and lovers of homes, tell what life has done to them. Love and hate in many patterns and designs, heart cries of high and low pitch, are in these verses and tunes. There are low-keyed lyrics brief as the life of a rose; there are biographies of voyagers that epitomize long novels and thick log-books…it should be collateral material with the study of history and geography in schools, colleges, and universities; the pupils or students might sing their answers at examination time.
At the 5th annual Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat, I will get the chance to lead the attendees in a folksong. We will stand and, for a moment, we will be united in song, no matter the distance we’ve traveled to be there. We will be adding our story in indelible ink, linking it to those others across distance and time who’ve sung those same songs, too.
I hope you will come and sing with me.