The folk tradition has been part of my life from the beginning. I grew up with traditional songs, and modern singer-songwriters, and spent my twenties running a folk club. I’ve always loved the material, but I don’t think I really understood it until I started using it in a working context.
If you’re living close to the earth and doing things by hand a lot, it takes a colossal amount of time and effort. Much of it requires some attention, but won’t fully occupy your mind. If you spend whole days on fairly dull, repetitive, essential work, it can become soul-numbing, mind killing drudgery.
Unless you’re singing.
I can do anything, for as many hours as it takes, if I can sing or if someone else is singing. I can push through pain and exhaustion. I can do the utterly tedious and be happy, because I’m singing. The sharing of voices is a really community binding thing, too. Singing together, working together, that has so many levels to it, and a real power. If I’m singing then first and foremost, I am a person sharing a song, and what I’m doing with the rest of me does not define how I feel. In face of long stints of hard grind, that can be critically important.
Being a person who sings, and does other stuff, is a totally different emotional experience from being a person who is engaged in dull and physically demanding work, and is not allowed to sing. It raises interesting issues about how human and expressive we are allowed to be in our workplaces. I also find myself thinking about the important role of the radio in the modern workplace. The presence of popular music, the permission that gives to at least sing along with the chorus… it’s a lot more like tradition and ancestral expressions than may first appear.