Barbara Lawlor, Gilpin County. This spring’s Peak to Peak Chorale concert hits the heartstrings as no other of the group’s historic musical performances. It is heartbreaking in its depiction of the hardships that many Americans endured during the Great Depression and it is heart lifting in the courage and loyalty these people demonstrated in their struggle to rise again.
The words of Woody Guthrie make one proud to be an American and listening to the singers of the chorale make one proud to be a Gilpin County resident.
At a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago in the Gilpin Community Library, the choir dressed in their costumes; farmers, railroad workers, housewives and mothers; they brought their banjos and washboards, guitars and drums, completing the sound of history.
Performances will held on Friday, May 5, at 7:30 p.m. at the Central City Elks Lodge; Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the Golden Gate Grange Hall and Sunday, May 7 at 3 p.m. at the Coal Creek Canyon Improvement Association Hall.
To get into character, each member of the choir researched Woody’s background. They learned his childhood was tumultuous as he went from poverty to a well-to-do status. In the hard times, he shined shoes, sang on the streets, sold whiskey and painted storefront windows and signs. A paintbrush in his back pocket was a typical accessory.
In his young days, Woody hitchhiked across the country, working as a migrant worker, heavy construction laborer. He never wore new jeans or work pants or shirts and his boots were old and sturdy.
Woody, spent much of his life visiting libraries, reading about politics, religion, social issues and what he lacked in the normal education process he made up for in his voracious reading. At one time Woody was a successful radio show host in California and although he made a good living, he gave much away, always figuring the other guy needed it more than he did.
Woody was born in 1912 in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Family tragedies claimed his mother, forced his father to leave home for work and left him to raise his brothers and sisters.
Despair never stopped him from singing hundreds of political songs, traditional ballads and writing labor union articles. He married three times and fathered eight children, including Arlo Guthrie, who followed in his father’s singing, storytelling footsteps.
In the 1940’s he went to New York City and wrote the anthem “This Land is Your Land,” which the Chorale sings with such soul and uplifting harmonies that it makes you want to cry. Everyone single member of the chorale put everything they have into making this song the highlight of the night.
The music takes the audience into the sad, nostalgic past. “So long, it’s been good to know ya,” is actually the lament of a farmer grieving that the dust was forcing him to leave his home. Songs of remembering the Oklahoma Hills bring to light how much the depression families had to leave behind to find a way to live.
Between songs, the performers talk to the audience in the words of Woody.
“Don’t sing songs that aren’t real. Sing songs that help us get through the bad times and make the world a better place.”
“People are trying to build a better world and when they do, that will be the best thing we have ever done.”
The audience will receive words to the song choruses and are encouraged to sing along, to feel a part of this inspiring performance.
After all, again in Woody’s words, “…Anybody caught singing the songs without our permission will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”
Ann and Jane Wyss are the musical co-directors.