A chat with a legend

What would you ask the music legend Peter Yarrow (the Peter of‘Peter, Paul and Mary’) if you had a chance to speak with him? My mind was racing for days because I had agreed to do a phone interview with someone who had some influence on my decision to make music making and music education my career.

Here’s the condensed version:

“My older sister, Mary, was in a very popular folk singing group in Michigan when I was growing up and going through a very impressionable stage of my life. She was 18 and I was 10. This was 1962 and the folk music scene was at its peak. Dylan was emerging as the genius poet/songwriter and Peter, Paul& Mary were near the peak of their popularity. Remember that this was before The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, which took me (and thousands of other aspiring musicians) in a whole new direction.

“Anyway, it was my sister’s folk singing group that really got me excited about making music. It truly was an exciting time because they were producing some outstanding folk music and beginning to be noticed outside our regional area. It was the power and the intensity of this music as an emotional expression that inspired me to pick up the guitar.”

PUFF& OTHER FAMILY CLASSICS by Peter, Bethany and Rufus, Salsaree Records, $9.95; www.peterbethanyandrufus.com.This brings us to a new CD,"Puff& Other Family Classics” by Peter, Bethany and Rufus. Bethany is Peter Yarrow’s daughter, Rufus is her husband and this recording is a wonderful collaboration between a father with a vast musical heritage and his daughter’s and husband’s 21st century musical sensibilities. Not surprisingly, this recording coincides with the release of the first ever picture book release of Puff, The Magic Dragon—certainly one of the most treasured and classic children’s songs of all time.

If you read this column you have come to understand that I only share with you recordings I feel to be the best of the best. It is also worth repeating that words on a page cannot even slightly represent the magic that the music can provide. So I encourage you to go to the Web site and follow the‘click here to buy the Peter, Bethany and Rufus CD’ link in the store section. This will take to you the Barnes& Noble Web site where you can hear for yourself all of the songs.

You might expect a folk music feel to this recording, but the definition of‘folk music’ has really been expanded since the 1960s. That is the charm of this CD. If you look at the list of songs from"Blue Tail Fly” and"The Cuckoo” to"Frankie& Johnny” and"Puff, the Magic Dragon” you might assume this is just another‘folky’ record. But you would be mistaken because the influences Bethany and Rufus bring (with his jazz/world/improvisational approach to the cello) stretch the notion of folk music to include a wider world music approach.

When I spoke with Peter he emphasized what a musical treat it was for him to make music with these musicians. He knew he had to sit back and listen, fit his parts in and be content with being a part of the new ensemble. And to my ears it really works. Song after song you hear Peter’s gentle voice and acoustic guitar blending beautifully with Bethany’s voice and Rufus’ cello. You can’t help but feel that they were having a very joyful time making this music.

I wish I had time and space to speak to each song because they are all quite wonderful. And I wish I had time and space to recount some of the highlights from my 90-plus minute phone interview with Peter. In addition to his music contributions, it is important to note that Yarrow’s work with the education foundation, Operation Respect (dontlaugh.org), deserves much more exposure and recognition.

In the end I came away with a feeling of Peter Yarrow’s deep and heartfelt passion for music, families and social issues that he articulated with a sense of immediate concern and an optimistic vision for the future.

Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, recording artist and producer. His Web site, BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children’s music. E-mail him at fred@bestchildrensmusic.com.

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