Made on the 4th of July

IMG_8143What do your “hands at home” make for a special celebration? The decorations? The flower arrangement? The bread? The ice cream?

One day a year, on America’s Independence Day, we go a step further.

We make music.

IMG_8178Two of us have sung together for over 30 years. A little girl grew up singing and joined in. Two of us married and brought new musicians to the group.

We play and sing only a couple of times a year but always, always, on the 4th of July. Most of us never pick up a guitar at any other time.

Because we play together only once or twice a year, we play with no finesse. Self-taught, we play really easy songs and try to avoid F-chords (or those F-ing chords, as a wit among us calls them). We have trouble finding enough capos, let alone the same key. We drink beer and complain about how much the guitar strings hurt our fingers.

We sing songs you may know—of green alligators and long-necked geese, of times that are a-changin’, of Charley on the MTA.

We have loyal listeners who never find fault (mostly because they are related to us!)

Every time we get together and play, I think we should do it more often—there’s something about making music, even not-very-good music, that seems to be at the core of what it means to be human.

When we sit by the campfire and sing, it’s hard not to think of other fires, other songs, other singers who have found warmth and community and harmony through making music.

It may only happen once a year for us, but the feeling lasts. That feeling always makes me think of one of my favorite songs, by John McCutcheon:

And I wish you songs to speed you through the evening,
And I wish you rest at the close of the day,
And a harbor safe till the morning light,
And I wish you good dreams, good morrow, and I wish you good night

So gather `round, you friends and lovers,
Let the darkness come for the fire is bright;
Though the road is long, love makes us stronger,
And I wish you good dreams, good morrow, and I wish you good night.


42 thoughts on “Made on the 4th of July

  1. Most likely I’ve said this before but what the heck, I’ll say it again; You are a woman of many talents, Kerry! I only wish that you had put this on video so we could hear your music…

    • Never in a million years would I post a video! That would take care of any notions you have about this being one of my talents. We play music because it’s fun not because we’re good at it!

  2. John McCutcheon is a favorite of mine. 🙂

    Your tradition would be something to savor. Our tradition here is to attend the Iowa City Jazz Festival, immersing ourselves in the music, smells, sights, and flavors. We always see people we know, and music takes second place to catching up. “It may only happen once a year for us, but the feeling lasts.”

    • The 4th of July seems like a time for traditions–we all find what works for us and our friends. I can’t even imagine spending it a different way now, after so many years–nor would I want to!

  3. Ah yes……dear old Charlie on the MTA…… of my faves for sure!!! There is something so special about the above described moments……unrehearsed, pure joy of the moment (of course, the beer doesn’t hurt!!! LOL! ……for all!!!!). The portability of a guitar (or other such) has always brought a “sigh” moment to me (but not enough to take up the instrument, sadly) as the piano is my interments of choice and not easily ‘whipped’ out from the back seat of a car!!! LOL! And, I agree, an audio would have been awesome!!!!!!

  4. I love this, it looks like so much fun, good fun! I don’t know much about f-chords but I do know a good time when I see one and this looks like the right way to celebrate the 4th of July!

    • F-chords on a guitar are just awkward and, for people who play once or twice a year, almost impossible to do well! But, really, who cares?! It was great fun.

  5. I love the idea of friendships that span for decades and bring more and more people into the circle as the years go by. I’m hilariously un-musically talented with no ear for being on-key, but I have fond memories of my many years in band with my best friends as we played the best we could and had a blast. I could maybe get through a few songs still on my trumpet but luckily I’m never asked to. 😉

    • There’s rarely a need for a trumpet around a campfire–you need to learn to play guitar! Decades-old friendships are rare, indeed–it’s kind of a thrill to know that, before long, there will probably be a whole new generation of kids to bring into the mix and to teach the songs to!

  6. Fun!! Reminded me of times when we sat together as a family and sang, everyone playing a different instrument. It’s definitely been too long and we need to do it again soon! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • We all play guitar in this crowd, because it’s the easiest instrument to get started on! But a family that plays lots of instruments would be great fun–get them back together!

  7. FABULOUS!!:-) It may be only once a year, but I bet you look forward to it and that for days after your spirits are lifted! Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!!

    We are not a musical instrument family alas but do sing when together – in the car especially on long journeys – ‘Sing-Star’ is a popular holiday entertainment…… We are not particularly good singers, but our enthusiasm makes us worse 🙂

    • “Not particularly good but our enthusiasm makes us worse”–HA! That is SO accurate for us, too! When we’re playing on 4th of July, we’ll do most anything to make the others laugh. We’re noisy and happy–that’s what counts!

  8. So honored and humbled to be a part of this amazing tradition. Warms my heart to know that our children have been brought into the fold and treasure this tradition as much as the “founding musicians”. Those who don’t play get to sit back, drink, eat, and be the adoring fans who join in during audience participation with great enthusiasm. It’s a pretty easy job!

    • “Adoring fans”–I like that! But it’s not too late for you to learn to play guitar, you know. 😉 Maybe we should focus on that instead of quilting?

  9. Great way of spending 4 of July. I love singing too and just listening to music. It’s very soothing to the soul, mind and body. Great tradition!

  10. Making music together is the greatest fun. I often wish that as a child I’d been made to play an instrument, because it seems too darned difficult to start frrom scratch now. But singing hits the same kind of spot I think. There’s no better way of binding people together than simply making music, however inexpertly.

    • It’s NEVER too late!

      Get thee to a music teacher post haste who will provide you with (at the least) a basic education in music theory (unless the instrument you choose requires an intermediate or advanced knowledge of it, such as the oboe or bassoon) and go for it!

      After you know at least a little about reading music, you can start playing by ear. I became an intermediate guitar player using this method (although I went on to study more theory on my own as well). And I taught myself to play a little fiddle (I’m a bluegrass fan).


      • Oof. There’s a challenge. First choose your instrument. But you’re right. It’s never too late. I had a friend who learnt the piano in his 60s, so I should use him too as inspiration.

    • I agree with Eric that it’s not too late! Guitar, especially the way we play it around here, is quite easy. My husband has learned pretty darn well, with no musical theory background at all. If you like folky kinds of music, you only need to learn about 3 chords before you can actually play a full song and sing along!

    • Don’t you love it when you take a photo and then, later, realize something special happened? I didn’t even see the leaf reflection when I was shooting the picture!

  11. Great illustration and story just wonderful! I can see this is lovely tradition documented here:) in our family is a cooking together with kids big tradition for holidays… and I hope to keep it forever as well. And I wish I had more time to create a post about it…. but it always a next year 🙂

  12. There is something so special about making music together. One of my best friends is a folk singer and musician who collects old songs and when he and his wife came for supper I sang him a song which my Grandmother used to sing to me. It was such a special moment and I could feel something happen as I did it, something deepened between us all.
    Like you, I can imagine songs being sung around fires and troubles shared- look at the number of times in Thomas Hardy stories where singing takes place.
    Maybe next year, you might make a little recording of the annual reunion?

    • Isn’t it wonderful that you could sing your grandmother’s song and share it so it will be saved and passed on? I think folklorists do such an important job of honoring this oral tradition, and recording it. And, no, you will never hear a recording of our music group–I do have some pride, you know. 😉

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