In his childhood home just north of New York City, Pete Seeger found musical instruments in just about every room of his house. Pete grew up in a music loving family. Pete's mom and dad, Constance and Charles, were both musicians. They each studied classical music in college. Constance was a concert violinist and a music teacher. Charles was a composer and "musicologist". That means he researched the world's great variety of music and the many ways music is important in people's lives.
Pete's dad tells great bedtime stories.
Charles Seeger was a great storyteller. One of Pete's favorite stories was inspired by a song about a foolish frog. Then there was the true story of when the whole family–including his 2 older brothers–went on a trip far from the big city hoping to share classical music they loved with ordinary folks in the countryside. Pete was just a toddler. They traveled as far as Pinehurst, North Carolina and ended up spending the winter camped out in a farmer's back yard. Charles and Constance performed their fine violin and pump organ music for their host family. The farmer's family listened, then picked up their own instruments and played banjo and fiddle tunes for their guests. The delightful sound of this farming family playing their old timey music impressed Charles Seeger. Growing up, Pete heard this story told and retold many times.
Young Pete Seeger plays the ukulele.
Early on, of all the musical instruments Mom and Dad left out around their home, Pete had the most fun learning to play the ukulele. He began playing tunes and enjoyed sharing stories with his school mates. Many years later Pete would give a ukulele to the young hero in the Abiyoyo bedtime story he made up for his own children.
He makes up his story about a giant cabbage.
When he was eight years old, Pete happened to discover that cabbages will float in water. So he made up his own story for the first time. He imagined a boy who grew a giant cabbage. The boy rolled his giant vegetable into the river, turned it into a sail boat and took it on a trip all around the world. The boy called out "Hello!" to people in every country along the route of his journey. He arrived back home and was famous far and wide. Pete's school mates asked him to tell his ridiculous story again and again.
Pete hears the sound of the 5-string banjo.
Pete was 17 years old when he and his dad traveled again to North Carolina, this time with Ruth Crawford Seeger, Pete's stepmom. There Pete remembers hearing the sound of 5-string banjo for the first time. Groups of musicians had gathered at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival to perform a style of music played up in their small mountain communities. Pete listened intently. Maybe he heard the echo of an early childhood memory. This music festival started Pete on a path he has followed his whole long life. He learned his first banjo "frailing" strums that night at the festival and for the next several years worked at learning to play the 5-string banjo.
Pete brings mountain music to the city folk.
He already loved stories and music. Now Pete had found his instrument–a little machine that would one day ring out around the world. When he was 29 years old Pete published the first edition of his instruction manualHow to Play the Five-String Banjo. His book was a link in a chain. It trailed all the way from Africa where the banjo originated, through the American South and along back country roads. Now the banjo with the stories and songs of forgotten folk was winding its way toward the big city.
Pete and the power of song »
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