Elevate Difference

Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook, Vol. 1

As a native Chicagoan, I was delighted when the Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook, Vol. 1 arrived. The work of nearly 50 years of lessons and learning felt warm and familiar in my hand. The songbook contains 23 classic songs performed by a variety of artistic talents, some nationally known; others are instructors at the school – with decades of performing experience. The Old Town School of Folk Music was established in December 1957 and has been sharing, teaching and incubating music ever since. Now with two locations, the school has grown from the original location at 333 North Avenue with 150 students to expand programs to a much larger Lincoln Avenue facility while maintaining its music education programs in Lincoln Park. The Lincoln Square and Lincoln Park facilities offer workshops, classes in dance and art, seven days a week, 48 weeks a year to 6,000 students per week, nearly half of them children. The school not only offers education and workshops; performances by touring artists are on stage virtually every weekend. Through the ups-and-downs of a 50-year history, growth and decline coming near bankruptcy, what sets the school apart from other programs is the commitment to and philosophy music is for all people, regardless of age, experience, culture or tradition.

The Bloodshot Records recording of the actual school songbook features school faculty and staff, along with renowned friends such as Robbie Fulks, John Stirratt, and Janet Bean. The classics ring out the tradition of pure folk music such as “Amazing Grace,” “Wabash Cannonball” and “Drunken Sailor.” The lyrics of traditional folk music reflect the outdated relationships between men and women, who are “sweet as any honey.” The historical value of that tradition made me cringe on several occasions when the songs reflected the perception of woman’s role in the world is still one to be taken care of by a man.

The musical talent record includes some of the best harmonica, washboard and acoustic work I have ever heard; the foundation of blues and bluegrass stay strong. If only we could rework the lyrics to bring a greater insight to the changing roles of women in today’s world.

Written by: Mary O'Hara, February 18th 2007