It ran in the family. You see, Charles Seeger was forced to resign from the music department at the University of California, Berkeley because he was an outspoken pacifist during World War I. Frankly, it’s both surprising and warming to recognize that there were war protesters in 1918.
Pete was born the following year and despite musician parents, he taught himself to play the ukulele at a young age. While he eventually moved on to his beloved banjo, his early ukulele was at the root of his keen ability to cultivate audience rapport. He shared his three rules with countless other performers:
- Look ‘em in the eye.
- Make a gesture of inclusion.
- And above all, have a chorus.
Those sentiments stood out for me in the countless tributes that have been paid to this American Tuning Fork over the past days. While Pete often spent his time on the ragged edge of political issues, I believe his powerful skill at connecting with audience ought to be remembered and memorialized. His simple methodology transcended crowds and lay the framework for connectedness, relationship and above all transparent passion for a cause – oh yes, and for his music.
Pete was a prolific songwriter and created music sometimes popularized by others while at the same time, bringing awareness to strong civil rights tunes that had a chorus.
I had the good fortune of seeing Pete perform years ago yet it is in the epitaph, that I am most touched. Today I will look to connect with my audience, be it one or many by looking them in the eye, making a gesture of inclusion and finding our chorus.