WOODY GUTHRIE – This Land Is Your Land

Teaching children to sing folk songs might be about as rewarding as assigning them book reports on The Abridged Moby Dick. (Kudos goes out to the Langley Schools Music Project one more time, for bucking the status quo; honorable mention to my Choir teacher in high school, trying desperately to pull a decent version of “When I’m Sixty Four” from a pack of disenfranchised hormonal teenagers.) Recollections of various elementary school run-throughs of this particular song aren’t that memorable – bunch of kids, singing listlessly, some off-key (of course), going through the motions. America’s grand & beautiful, yeah. This land is ours – OK. Somewhere underneath those rotaries & cookie-cutter raised ranches, those golden valleys swoon beneath the gentle gaze of the endless skyway. Uh huh. (Kids are so much smarter when they think they know everything.) One more time, on 4. First verse, second verse, repeat the first, and there you are. Time for recess.

Little did I know, twenty years down the road, that I’d hear a scratchy version of this song (performed by Mr. Guthrie himself, perhaps) on a local college radio station. Recasting the a capella ramshackle choir version I always envisioned as a solemn ballad etched on crackling vinyl didn’t prove to be as shocking as the thought a bunch of 3rd graders singing the 4th verse of this song (from lyrics written in 1940):

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
This land was made for you & me.