One year ago, in these pages, I was privileged to write about the life and music of Pete Seeger. How many young people, I wondered then, became musicians because he was a tireless good-will ambassador of American song? How many aspired to lives of purpose and service, because he sang of the country he loved, and called us to seek the better angels of our nature?
Pete Seeger shaped the lives of younger friends to follow: with names like Dylan, Baez and Springsteen. He enshrined so many anthems in the American songbook--each becoming a milestone in music.
I never met Mr. Seeger, but in my journey as a writer, I've been privileged to meet and befriend other artists. Two of them, Malcolm Guite and Steve Bell, are national treasures in their native England and Canada respectively. Both are musicians and poets--and both are marking milestones just now.
Malcolm Guite is a poet based at Girton College, Cambridge University. He rides a motorcycle, fronts a rock band, and, in the guise of the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite, has authored several fine scholarly monographs delving into the work of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
At present, Guite is in the midst of three weeks as Artist in Residence at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, exploring the interweaving of theology and the arts. Alongside lectures on George Herbert and S.T. Coleridge, he's practicing his art as a poet, with lines like these:
How hard to hear the things I think I know,
To peel aside the thin familiar film
That wraps and seals your secret just below:
An undiscovered good, a hidden realm,
A kingdom of reversal, where the poor
Are rich in blessing and the tragic rich
Still struggle, trapped in trappings at the door
They never opened, Life just out of reach...
Open the door for me and take me there.
Love, take my hand and lead me like the blind,
Unbandage me, unwrap me from my fear,
Open my eyes, my heart, my soul, my mind.
I struggle with these grave clothes, this dark earth,
But you are calling 'Lazarus come forth!'
In his native Canada, Steve Bell has for 25 years mingled poetry with the songwriter's craft, and deft skill as a guitarist. Along the way, he's become a multiple Juno Award-winner, performed with symphony orchestras, and won praise from peers like Bruce Cockburn.
The release of Bell's 4-CD career retrospective project, Pilgrimage, has become a cause célèbre. An acclaimed documentary film, Burning Ember, traces Bell's musical journey. While Pilgrimage itself offers a cache of new songs, landmark unplugged performances, and covers from famous peers: Jacob Moon, the Bros. Landreth, Carolyn Arends--and Malcolm Guite.
In 2012, Bell and Guite collaborated on the album Keening for the Dawn, where several tracks were adaptations of Guite's Advent-themed poetry, set to music by Bell. And both recently performed as part of the acclaimed Blacknall Lectures, celebrating the rich interplay of theology and the arts.
On both sides of the Atlantic, and to the north in Canada, Bell and Guite have both blazed trails, and lived lives of vibrant artistic expression. Their milestones have been markers for many in a journey of faith. And both, thankfully, have miles yet to travel...