An Evening with Peter and Bethany Yarrow

On August 19, 2012, Peter Yarrow and his daughter Bethany gave all of us a tremendous gift — a wonderful evening of song that was also a master class on how to use music to gather courage towards justice.

After Peter’s introduction, this series of videos provides bite sized abstracts of the lessons Peter imparted that night. Musicians can learn from a singular talent how to play, when to play, and when to step back. People who do not see themselves as musicians learn how to lead song. Everyone learns how song can transcend prejudice, diffuse tension, and unite generous souls in the face of diversity.

The topic of the night was fracking for fossil fuels, the rapacious and destructive technology that a powerful few are using to rob the wealth and welfare of anybody who breathes air and drinks water.

But what Peter offers us goes much further — techniques and lessons from a long lineage of social activists, from the Weavers, Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger all the way to present Occupy Wall Street activists who are two generations Peter’s junior.

Please enjoy and learn from this singular master.  As you confront the powerful and those that feel threatened by Truth, heed Peter’s lessons on how to use song to fell the most rigid barrier.

When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed. Joshua 6:20

A Master Class in Ten Parts

Here are the links to a ten-part documentary of this special evening.  Each part is between three and thirteen minutes in length.  The general format is to combine learning a particular song with lessons and insights rooted in a long tradition of activism.  But there are a few that are pure narrative or pure song. Any video centered around a song has lyrics in its YouTube description field, courtesy of Natalie and Sharon, two volunteers who faithfully logged the lyrics.

Each of these is part of the same YouTube “playlist”, which means you can view them individually, or else let them run sequentially from the first one you look at.

  1. Yarrow Master Class Part 1, Introduction to this Workshop on Gathering Strength Through Song. In an introductory postscript, Peter explains his intent to pass along insights into the power of song in social activism.
  2. Yarrow Master Class Part 2, I’m On My Way (and sharing the lead). The basics of how to lead song leveraging strength in numbers, and how musicians can modulate their performance to facilitate the effort. This belongs to all of us, there are no superstars.
  3. Yarrow Master Class Part 3, We Shall Not be Moved (and don’t be afraid of the word “love”). Peter advises us to be bold and sincere in our message. Coaching on the use of a cappella.
  4. Yarrow Master Class Part 4, This Little Light of Mine (passing the lead). All are invited to make up verses. From the heart, there are no bad phrases.
  5. Yarrow Master Class Part 5, We Shall Overcome (the power of sadness). We all know this song, but here we develop a deeper understanding. The spirit of song goes beyond mere melody and words. This is about flesh, bone and love for each other.
  6. Yarrow Master Class Part 6a, Talk on monetization of our government, and true love of country. Peter spends a few minutes on the corruption of our democracy, leading to Occupy’s response.  He also talks about the corruption of the soul that leads people to excoriate those who criticize our country’s policies as disloyal.  True love of country involves acknowledging its faults and working towards the better.
  7. Yarrow Master Class Part 6b, This Land is Your Land. This one is all song, no sermon. Fun and informative nonetheless.  But the lyrics have some topical variations.
  8. Yarrow Master Class Part 7, The police come to arrest you. A practical application of the lesson in Part 4, from two who know — both Peter and then teenage Bethany.  The police are afraid, and you are afraid.  But you are in control because collectively you have courage.
  9. Yarrow Master Class Part 8, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round (practicing what we learned). More applied knowledge.
  10. Yarrow Master Class Part 9, Why Don’t You Sit Down? (closing remarks, sing together before you get there). Peter sums things up, and acknowledges the importance of disseminating the experiences he describes. One final bit of advice – practice the songs together before you go on site.
  11. Yarrow Master Class, Bonus Track, I Woke Up This Morning. An encore performance, led by Bethany. This is the last of this series.