When was the last time you participated in a sing-along? Around a campfire? At a service? With your child? With friends? With strangers? Was it an uplifting, collective experience? Or awkward and embarrassing? Lastly, was it for a good cause?
The reason I ask these questions is because I bet 80% of you cannot remember the last time you participated in an informal group singing session. For one full hour. With a bunch of people you don’t know. That was free. But that also asked for donations to help those who need it most: those living in poverty.
The Dusty Strings SING! is an hour-long sing-along open to the public every Wednesday from 12pm-1pm at the Dusty Strings music store located in the Center of the Universe (also known as Fremont, Seattle). The SING is open to the public, all voices are welcome and it is free. However, donations in any denomination are encouraged, all proceeds benefitting Solid Ground.
Kate Power, Music School Director at Dusty Strings and Steve Einhorn, Musical Instructor at the Dusty Strings Music School, who host the SING every week, brought the idea of the Dusty Strings SING! in 2013. However, this is not the original site of their community singing endeavors.
In 1994, Steve and Kate bought Artichoke Music, then a store in Portland, Oregon that sold musical instruments. Inspired by the musical social justice movements of Pete Seeger, they decided to hold events to raise funds to donate to the Sisters of the Road, an agency and café in Portland that provides meals and services for people experiencing homelessness.
“One Pete Seeger concert would teach you a lot about social justice through song,” says Steve. “We were both raised in that generation of songwriters, like Bob Dylan and Peter Paul & Mary, who were singing about civil rights and progressive social issues.” And while those artists contributed to progressive action during their time, Pete really encouraged his audience to sing along and actively participate in what those songs were about. “Seeger was really a great model for ‘we shall overcome’ and [how to] come together with all of those people,” Steve says.
Once they got comfortable in Portland and cultivated some change by connecting with customers on a more private and smaller scale, they wanted to expand that connection to the community. “And we tried to figure out, ‘How can we [give back to the community] in a way that is meaningful?’ ” So they decided to hold concerts every year with a well-known lineup that included a raffle to give away a guitar. They raised $10,000 for every guitar given away, all of which was donated to Sisters of the Road.
Kate says they picked this particular cause “because everyone relates to hunger. Even if you have the money.” She also explains that embracing this type of open format for musical events in a come-as-you-are environment can create meaningful experiences for all participants while giving any afforded proceeds to those who need it most. This being said, it isn’t atypical to hear popular folk singers such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Utah Phillips and the like at any given sing-along. However, the floor is completely open and Kate and Steve take requests for all kinds of music. And all ranges of singing abilities, from those who can’t quite carry a tune to professional harmonizing masters (harmonies are openly encouraged), are invited to attend.
I had the good fortune of attending the most recent SING!, and while Kate and Steve hovered five feet in front of us (a group of about 15), adjusting their acoustic guitar straps and tuning the instruments up just right, Kate mentioned to the group that there’s nothing quite like collective singing. While Steve fiddled with the tuning nobs at the top of his guitar, softly strumming each string, she said sometimes it even brings her to tears. “Music is really how we come together,” Kate says. I couldn’t agree more.
You can find out more about Kate & Steve’s ongoing musical adventures through their website, Quality Folk.