As a herald of song, Pete Seeger is a national treasure.
And, as of October 2012, at age 93, he was still performing, still releasing new albums, and still visiting Beacon Elementary School in New York State -- where he's often shared the gift of song with children.
All my life, I've been amazed over the phenomenon of musicians whose love and dedication to their art has carried them well into their eighties and nineties.
I was reminded of this during a recent visit to our local library in Maine. As the father of a seven-year-old, I've had many conversations with the children's librarian.
During this visit, we got to talking about Pete Seeger. She told me the reasons why Seeger is one of her great heroes, and we marveled at the thought of how many musicians today chose to follow a life in music, as children, or as young people, because of Seeger's influence and example. Dylan, Baez, Springsteen -- how many others? What an incredible legacy.
I found myself thinking too of how often music has bestowed long life on those who follow its sound and mystery.
"Musick hath charms," said the poet William Congreve long years ago. Many of us know these words, or have heard them. Congreve was prodigal in his tribute to music, giving us other lines, too, that we ought to know. He wrote of how rocks and trees, no less, might be stirred by music--and perhaps he was thinking of passages from holy writ that declare: "the trees of the field will clap their hands," or transcendent moments, when "the morning stars sang together." So, Congreve tells us--
I've read that things inanimate have mov'd,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
* * *
To reflect on the many gifts of music is remember other musicians who've known longevity like Seeger.
One of my favorite documentaries is Chasing Sound (released in 2007 as part of the American Masters series on PBS). It featured then 90-year-old guitarist Les Paul, still performing regularly, and with scarcely diminished skill, in Manhattan. As the film opens, and Paul is preparing for a gig in The Big Apple, and we can hear him being asked: "Any surprises for the show tonight? To which he replied, "I imagine the surprise will be that we'll be there!"
That quick flash of humor was a puckish symbol of the joy that marked a long life of artistry and achievement. How many of us might wish to grow young like that?
* * *
When I was in college, the world of classical music rejoiced over the telecast of an April 20th, 1986 Moscow recital by pianist Vladimir Horowitz. In 1925, he'd fled the violence of post-revolutionary Russia. A matchless career, spanning decades, followed in the west. Then, nearly sixty-one years after he left, he went back the land of his birth and gave a springtime recital. The music that came from his piano held all the majesty of Yosemite's storied waterfall--cascading in beauty.
Watching this film one can see that, before Horowitz had yet to play a note, the ovation he received said everything. Music had carried him well into his eighties, and returned him to his homeland in triumph.
The lives of all these artists show that music brings so many gifts in her train. To remember names like Seeger, Paul and Horowitz is to see the truth of that.