I had the joy of sitting down with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary to discuss my new song: Song For The Refugee (which he loved!☺️).
We talked at length about the important role music plays in our culture in moving people's hearts to engaging issues that matter. We compared his experiences in the 60s to the present day challenges facing our nation and the need as artists to steward our voices to inspire love, compassion and action.
Peter shared what it was like to sing at the Civil Rights March on Washington. He spoke of what it was like to share the stage with Martin Luther King and many other epic artists of the movement. And as I listened I was keenly aware that I was in the presence of one of the great heroes of our nation's history.
Are artists not among the heroes? It is clear that their songs have shaped the change we now experience in our present day. What songs are we writing now that will shape the future for the next generation?
Peter talked about what it was like to stand near the Lincoln memorial and sing "To every season turn, turn, turn there is a reason, turn, turn, turn... and what it was like to hear the sound of thousands of voices joining in the songs of hope. He then stressed the need of creating more songs of hope and movement. He pointing out poignantly that 'there is a lot of noise but not a lot of substance, and the world needs substance now more than ever.' Adding that the role of the 'protest song' is vital to our culture and growth, how it always has been.
Peter said he turned 80 this year and that he's busier now more than he's ever been, even busier than he was in the 60s. He feels these current issues and challenges are even more urgent and weightier than those he faced a generation ago. He shared vulnerably that he's scared to think about what might happen if things don't improve.
And I realized with fresh fervor that this is why I write music: to come alongside others like a faithful friend to spur on and encourage. If a song I help create can help another fellow human being than I believe what I'm doing has value. I've never seen myself as an entertainer, that's not my goal. And this was the very thing Peter Yarrow, after a lifetime of doing music, couldn't seem to stress to me more: "Steward your voice. There is a hungry, hurting world longing to hear what you have to share," he said to me.
As artists we are arrows pointing to beauty and love.
Peter shared that what concerns him most is the loss of respect and dignity for our fellow Americans, especially those that might be different or vote different from us. He said he could not remember a time when our nation was so divided. He then charged me to write songs that help others reclaim this dignity and respect for one another - 'we need to write songs that unite and restore.'
And I agree, our nation is divided in a way that is extremely unhealthy and unsustainable. As artists, I believe an important part of our job is to find the common ground and invite others to stand there with us. (Cue my song: Lay Down Your Arms)
Peter also encouraged me to have people sing together more often because 'when people sing together it is the sound of peace.' He then invited me to join him on stage to sing with him for President and Mrs. Carter and as we sang together I too experienced this harmonious peace and unity. It gets under your skin and it feels good. I want to share this as much as possible.
These are our protest songs, this is what our generation is invited to sing about, this is our time to rise up and choose greatness and love. We can follow the lead of those great artists that have blazed this trail well before us. Peter Yarrow is among one of my greatest inspirations in how to do this with tenacity and grace.
Peter, or 'Uncle Peter' as he asked me to call him, calls himself: Puff the Magic Dragon's real daddy for he wrote this song and so many other iconic songs we know and love today. Now it is our turn to join him in adding to the tapestry of our nation's history and story. As artists, we hold essential thread to be woven into the beauty unfolding.
In the words of my friend and fellow artist Sara Groves, how will you 'add to the beauty'?