By Marta Rusek
Featured in the September BookMusings and Vital Friends eNewsletters of FGC
When they produced the original Rise Up Singing Songbook, Peter Blood and Annie Patterson never imagined that it would become such a widely-used book in churches, camps, and peace groups beyond the Quaker community. I recently caught up with Peter and Annie at New England Yearly Meeting's Annual Sessions at Castleton University in Vermont to ask them about their work, their inspiration, and what's next.
How did the Rise Up Singing and Rise Again Songbooks come to be?
Peter: We have led singing among Quakers for many, many years and we wanted to have an inexpensive songbook that included a wide range of songs that people enjoyed singing together, not just the kind of songs that went into the old Friends’ hymnal that was used by meetings. We’d run off mimeograph song sheets for lots of groups over the years, and we wanted to move beyond that and have a real book that could be used widely among Quakers and other groups singing together.
Annie: Peter and I both came out of musical families, and when we met each other, we both had our big collections [of music]. Peter had already been going around with a collection of songs he had put together and other people had been using that. So we had that to start from, and then we decided to do it up and made a book with 1,200 songs in it.
Peter: We were kindof shocked when it became so…we thought, if we sold 50,000 copies we’d be really surprised and pleased. And when it ended up selling hundreds of thousands of copies and became popular in many different churches, camps, schools, peace groups, and things like that, we were as surprised as anybody that it was so widely used across the country.
Have you heard of any stories over the years of people who used your songbooks in a unique way?
Annie: I have so many memories. Peter and I have traveled all over with the songbooks, and with Rise Up Singing, I remember going around and just having people tell me all kinds of stories. At one of our concerts, during the intermission, people were standing in a line to talk to us, and I watched as two people met each other for the first time, who lived two blocks from each other, and decided to have a monthly sing-along. Right in front of me! That was the thing we wanted, we wanted the book to be a vehicle for bringing people together in community. We also heard from people who used the book for all sorts of situations – hospice situations, gatherings, that sort of thing. It’s really special.
Peter: Rise Up Singing came out in 1988, so there’s been many Young Adult Friends who have come up to us over the years and said “this book has been with me in my family since as early as I can remember. My parents sang with me. My parents used the book as I grew up.” [The songbook] is like a family member. And a lot of those Young Adult Friends helped us think about what sorts of songs they wanted to see in the new book two years ago. Our biggest fans of the new book are the Young Adult Friends that grew up with the old book.
Who and/or what inspires you to do the work you’re doing?
Annie: We were mentored by our friend, Peter Seeger. He inspires so many, and we were lucky enough to have him be a really supporter in the early days of Rise Up Singing. He actually contributed to Rise Again, he was on the song selection committee. He was one of the biggest inspirations to us that I can think of. Peter and I are both inspired by a lot of different folks, and different movements. People like Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Bernice Reagon. Anyone who’s been out there doing social change work. John Fromer, who’s no longer with us, was an incredible songwriter and song leader, and an incredible social change worker.
Peter: I think that in a way the songbooks grew out of the kind of meeting that I grew up with. I grew up in Ann Arbor Friends Meeting in the 50s and 60s. That meeting was a tremendously closely-knit family of people, of many, many young families who stood for things together. They stood for racial justice and peace. When I moved away from Ann Arbor, I had a longing for a community that I experienced in that meeting growing up, and so I think I saw using music and group singing as a way to create that community in other groups that I was part of. So I think all these books over the years have been there in a sense to facilitate and nurture a community that can in turn change the world. Those many families were the mentors who helped bring the books into existence.
I’ve also been influenced by the singer/songwriters of songs that campers of Farm and Wilderness Camps requested most in the first songbook I put together – including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul, & Mary.
What are you working on now? What can Friends expect to see from you next?
Annie: I am thinking a lot about the future and where I am going. I’m hoping to take some time to do some songwriting. It’s something I put off, and because of traveling and making songbooks, I haven’t put the time into it. Also, I’m really interested in two things: early Friends’ writings (especially women’s voices) and I’m really interested in doing racial justice. I’m not sure how those two things are going to combine with songwriting, but that’s what I’m thinking about! Peter and I are going to keep leading some weekend retreats, but I’m going to do a lot more traveling on my own, and I’d like to go out and do more song-leading with people on my own for awhile.
Peter: Pete Seeger asked me, maybe five years after we made Rise Up Singing, to edit his autobiography. The book hasn’t actually been seen by that many people, but it’s a really wonderful collection of what was on his heart on different subjects. He had a whole chapter on religion and spirituality, a whole chapter on family, a whole chapter on environmental work. In each of those chapters, he said what was most on his heart in those areas, and so people who have loved and been inspired by Pete Seeger will love the book because it allows them to get a really deep glimpse of what was most authentic about him.
Even though Rise Up Singing and Rise Again have been very, very important expressions along with Annie’s journey and mine to use music to change the world, I’m not sure it’s quite said many of the things I need to say. So I’m hoping, in addition to doing some of this music work with meetings and others, to do more writing about early Quakers and how early Quakers can inform and transform the way in which Friends respond to God’s leading to transform the world today.
VIDEO: Peter and Annie discuss their work on QuakerSpeak.