Sunday, August 28, 2011

Over the roofs of the world

"I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."

bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

As some of you know, I have been playing my guitar more here in Lesotho than I did back in the States. A lot more. My repertoire has expanded substantially, and I may even have gotten a bit better. I have also found a few people with whom to play and sing since arriving, and our living room has played host to a few jam sessions over the past year and a half.

What's more, my friend Jim, who works with Kathy at Peace Corps Lesotho, is a talented guitar player; and he and I get together - as Kathy puts it - to play a lot of songs that were recorded before 1970. Playing with someone better than I has contributed substantially to any improvements I have seen in my playing. It has also moved me into a broader base for my repertoire, pulling me out of playing almost solely Dylan and the Dead. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

I gain a great deal of satisfaction out of being able to strum my way through songs that have meaning for me - even if I am the only one in the room. For me, it is therapy. However, I do truly enjoy being able to share my music with others, and even more so I relish opportunities to make music with other souls who also find meaning in the songs and the playing thereof. And I have long dreamt of moments that feature the sharing of music in such ways.

Two in particular come to mind. For each of these two dreams, there is a song. The first is the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia". For as long as I have know the song, I have wanted to be able to play it and lead a group of people in a sing-along to it. Due to the amount of time I spend playing now, and Jim's influences on my playing - in terms of skill and repertoire, I have gotten to the point at which I am trying to learn songs that I had not even thought I could before we moved here. "Sweet Virginia" is one of those. I learned it and really, really enjoy playing it whenever the mood strikes me.

Then, one evening not so long ago, Jim and a bunch of the volunteers came over to our house for dinner. A surprising number of the Peace Corps Lesotho volunteers are musically inclined, having played an instrument before getting here, having decided to take one up while they are here, or just being able to sing so, so wonderfully. Given that there are four guitars lying around our house (yes, four!), a jam session broke out. And during that session, I got to lead a room full of people through a "Sweet Virginia" sing-along! Fantastic.

Then came last weekend, when the Close of Service (COS) conference for PCVs finishing their service here in Lesotho was being held at Maliba Lodge in Tsehlanyane National Park. In case you have not seen or do not recall my earlier blog postings from our visits to Tsehlanyane, here it is:

Just a few days beforehand, I had been e-mailing with a friend back in D.C. who was planning a trip to New Hampshire. I had been feeling very housebound of late, so I asked her to sound a "barbaric yawp" for me while she was there. She graciously agreed. Then...

While as Peace Corps Lesotho staff members Kathy and Jim had to be at the COS conference for work, they did not have to include their families. But they kindly decided to bring us along. And we took musical instruments: Jim and I packed our guitars (three of them, in fact), and one of his daughters brought along her violin.

I sat out on the deck playing and learning a new song ("Hesitation Blues") during the morning conference sessions. At the mid-day break, Jim and I broke out the instruments and began to play. Some of the musically inclined amongst the volunteers took turns on the third guitar and we had a blast working our way through songs we knew and songs they knew. A highlight was the song one of them had written about being a volunteer: an education volunteer, in particular, as there is a friendly rivalry between volunteers working in the two main program areas, education and community health and development (ED and CHED volunteers, respectively).

Then, out of the goodness of her generous heart, Jim's daughter loaned her violin to one of the volunteers who knows how to play the instrument quite well. She played along with a couple numbers, then the time came to resume the conference sessions. We asked for time to play one more song, and the staff kindly agreed. She and I talked about what to play, and I just had to ask about a particular song: the second about which I had a dream. "Hurricane" (a Dylan tune that features a violin).

I really had not expected her even to know the song, given the difference in our generations, but she did. Indeed, quite a few of them seemed to know it. (I must say I am impressed with how many of the songs I grew up with are familiar to the PCVS here. I do not know how much of that is due to those songs becoming part of our shared American cultural heritage, how much of it is just because they are great songs, and how much of it is because those inclined to join the Peace Corps are more likely to know songs from the 1960's and 1970's...)

So, we set out on a journey through all eleven verses of "Hurricane" (I only messed up one line of the lyrics!), out on the deck, overlooking one of the valleys up in the heights of Tsehlanyane, in the early spring sun, with about two dozen Peace Corps volunteers and staff gathered round. With Jim playing his typically stellar leads, and the violin next to me being played so wonderfully by a Peace Corps Lesotho volunteer, the opportunity to play and sing my way through that particular song in that particular setting truly felt like sounding "my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world." Who says dreams do not come true? I am forever grateful to all who made that moment possible.

I do not, unfortunately, have any record of that moment to share. However, having been asked to post a video, any video, of myself playing guitar, I asked Kathy yesterday to shoot one of just that, with her selecting both the song and setting, and so here I am, playing "Wish You Were Here" out on our porch:

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