Ken, your column [As Autumn turns toward night, Viewpoints, Sept. 28] was beautifully written and crafted in every way. I, too, love folk “storysongs.”
One of the blessings in my life were the powerful, beautiful, talented women folk singers of my youth: Mary Travers, Joan Baez, and others. They were mentors to this young girl and teen, giving me a vision, guiding me in how to be a powerful, beautiful, and talented woman, too. They were early feminists, even though I didn’t have a word for it then. But I liked it. They showed me how to sing my heart out with social justice and spiritual songs, to help touch hearts and change the world.
They guided me on how to do it. I got a transistor radio when I was about 8 years old. My mom called it my fifth appendage. I’d often have it to my ear, especially when Mary or Joan was singing. I loved their voices. I loved their strength and passion. I loved their beauty and their stunning long hair. I loved how they felt they could help change the world for the better with their folk, spiritual and “storysongs.”
Fast forward decades later, and Peter, Paul and Mary were performing at Orchestra Hall. Of course I bought a ticket. I have a condition called multiple chemical sensitivities, and it was when those sensitivities were pronounced, so going to a concert held the possibility of having to move my seat to avoid chemical fragrances. Sure enough, when I sat down, I smelled some toxic perfume. I asked the usher to move me. He did, and I got more of the same sickening perfume. So I asked the usher if the rugs had recently been shampooed and they had. What to do?
Chemical sensitivity drama rarely produces a wonderful miracle. But the kind ushers had a novel plan: to sit me on the stage in the first row behind Peter, Paul, and Mary. I was seated directly behind Mary — a surprising gift to be so close to one of my mentors! As I listened to her, I marveled at how she could still have such a beautiful voice and long, silky blonde hair in her senior years. She was still an inspiration. I listened to the trio, their harmonies, their beautiful guitar playing, the powerful words. I listened to the old classics, still so full of energy, storytelling, and “change the world” passion.
During one of their classic social justice songs, Mary had the lead. It touched me so deeply, just like it did when I was young. My heart cracked open in deep gratitude for Mary, for her voice, her song, her beauty, her power, her passion, her social justice ministry, for the power of song itself. As I was sitting there with tears streaming, she felt my strong emotional energy. While singing for this packed house, she graciously and caringly turned to look at me, smiled knowingly, winked, and nodded. I put my hand on my heart and bowed my head to her in gratitude and reverence, tears rolling down my face. In this miracle moment, we connected. I was known, I was seen, I was acknowledged. Mary was known, seen, and acknowledged. I had a feeling of coming full circle from that singing girl with the transistor radio.
Rug perfume and universal synchronicity allowed this miracle of connection to one of my musical models.
Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Joan. Thank you, women and men singers who helped change the world. You touched so many. You inspired me and helped teach me how to sing and be a musician from the heart. I know that I have touched people with beauty and the energy to help change and heal the world. I had the ability to lift hearts and souls to God in my church music and social justice ministries. Amidst my human imperfections and the daunting job, I know I have done my best. And I remain so deeply grateful.
The new crop of singers, activists, pray-ers and visionaries now help heal the divisions and dysfunctions. We heal, together.
Gina Orlando has been a contributor to Wednesday Journal for 32 years and now lives in Forest Park.