Posts Tagged ‘folklore’

Passing the Music

Last weekend, at the tender age of five, my son was one of the featured performers at a folk festival workshop.  The workshop was “Families That Sing Together,” and when we asked him if he wanted to sing anything with us, he answered without hesitation, “I’ll sing ‘Freight Train.'”  So for a group of about fifty dyed in the wool folkies, with me playing guitar, my son sang the sweetest version of “Freight Train” you ever heard.  He had learned the song from an old Libba Cotten album, so he knew it cold, the way it was written:

Freight train, freight train
Run so fast
Freight train, freight train
Run so fast
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’ve gone.

It was a poignant moment for me, the more so because this is a festival I had been attending since I was his age and younger.  With his grandma singing with us, three generations of our family joined together in that workshop.

What we are doing is, in a sense, not that different from what many families do.  Every family has its own traditions.  It could be a certain kind of cooking,  art, sports or politics.  We pass them down not through insisting on lessons, or through a system of careful education, but by doing things together, enjoying being together while we are doing them, and taking delight in seeing someone new learn a piece of what we love.

The rest of the weekend, my son ran around with the other kids, playing games, but with music all around, under every tree and in every corner – just like his father and his uncle used to do when we were his age.  With all the excitement of the game, I wondered if he’d forgotten all about the singing, but he asked me that night to read him Elizabeth’s Song, a wonderful children’s book by Michael Wenberg about how Elizabeth Cotten wrote “Freight Train” when she was a little girl.  He listened intently, eyes wide.   The book ends with the song, and I sang it to him quietly, huddled with him in the cabin’s upper bunk.   He smiled and listened, his eyes growing smaller, until, at the very end of the song, he fell fast asleep.

It was a moment I will treasure for the rest of my life.

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