“And a little child will lead them” might well be the motto for 91 year old legend Pete Seeger’s new album, Tomorrow’s Children. “The future of the entire human race lies in the hands of children,” he says in the notes for this collaboration with educator Tery Udell’s fourth grade class at the Forrestal School in his hometown, Beacon, New York.
The children had been involved in an environmental education program sponsored by the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization and conducted by singer Dan Einbender. They were taught songs and encouraged to write their own compositions. Seeger was invited to hear what they had been doing, and he was so impressed with the children and their work, he became a regular visitor to the classes. This new album, which features the kids singing some of the songs they wrote and some they learned with Pete and his friends, is the result of those visits.
Seeger’s voice, of course, is no longer what it once was. The strength comes in fits and starts when it comes at all. Most of the singing is done by the kids, and while the kids may be eager, they are not a professional chorus. More often than not their singing has the feel of a grade school talent show. They are not polished, but for many what they lack in polish, they make up for with spirit.
Seeger plays the banjo and the twelve string guitar on all the tracks. He sings a solo here and there; he talks through a lyric or two and does his patented sing-a-long where he feeds the lyrics to the audience as they sing. He tells a story or two by way of introduction and joins in with the chorus once in awhile, but he clearly knows his limitations. Though his voice shakes with age, one still has to give the nonagenarian credit for fighting the good fight. What he lacks in strength he makes up for in passion. Seeger has always been a battler, for civil rights, for the working man, for the protection of the environment, and if his advanced years have had their way with his voice, he has found others to carry on the fight.
All the really sustained vocals are handled by the “friends:” Sara Underhill sings on “River,” Dar Williams on “Solartopia, co-written by Seeger,” Bob Killian on his own composition, “There’ll Come a Day.” Dave Amram plays flute and percussion and Victorio Roland Moussa handles the vocals on the traditional Native American song, “Mastinchele Wachipi Olewan.” Pete joins with Travis Jeffrey on a call and response version of “It’s a Long Haul,” their adaptation of “Long John,” a West African melody brought to this country by African Americans as a work song. The kids sing the traditional union anthem, “We Shall Not be Moved.”
Pete tells the story of how he wrote “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and then added some new verses for children at the suggestion of his wife. The kids, augmented with some older voices, sing the new version and end with the older lyric. Seeger solos with a quiet passion on the title song, a translation from Eugene Guillevic for which he wrote the music. It is a gentle passing of the baton to the new generation. This, after all, is the theme of the album: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new,” but the legacy of the past must never be forgotten. Tomorrow’s Children may well be the old warrior’s last attempt to keep that legacy alive.