Come all ye bold singers that have to this place come,
And we'll sing songs of sailors who don't suck their thumbs;
Good cheer is our goal till the rafters we've shook.
We'll sing what we please and they're not in the book

Rise Up Singing
is a song book often over-used at song circles. The late John Dwyer, a stalwart member of the Seattle Song Circle, loathed it, and Craig Brandis wrote this song about it. At John’s memorial service in 1997 a copy was ceremoniously dismembered and fed to the fire as a tribute to him.

So what is it about this book that some loath and others cling to for dear life? It is really a fine collection of songs to sing in groups, but not to be used in group singing. Does that make sense?

One of my first song books was Song Fest, by Dick and Beth Best, published by the Intercollegiate Outing Club Assoc. (I.O.C.A.) in 1954. The preface to the original collection had some interesting words of wisdom: “Because the fires of enthusiasm kindled at a rousing songfest, roaring most heartily… can’t be artificially preserved for I.O.C.A. posterity, this song book is inevitably a mere woodpile. The motley crew who haphazardly, and  with occasional splurge of energy, have thrown the pile together, haven’t bothered about a few knots and flaws in the grain. They’ve gone out of their way to select good rough logs, which haven’t been cut up, dried, and neatly sorted like those you find on any standard woodpile. They’ve tossed the big timbers in next to the small ones, but have tried to stack them up for easy reference. You’ll find some of them won’t burn very easily unless you corral an expert hand to touch them off, but plenty of room has been left on the pile for wood of you own choosing. In brief, the woodpilers herewith toss you the torch – and the tip that, not withstanding a random shot of smoke-in-the-eyes, which you may get in the early stages, no fire will burn more brightly than the one you concoct yourself.” The following P.S. was added: “A reward of one left-hand dungaree patch, guaranteed not to rip, run, rust, tear, split, melt, break, etc. is hereby offered for the pelt of the first bohunk caught surreptitiously using this book at a songfest.”

There is something about learning a song before you try to sing it in front of anyone else. If you don’t know the song don’t sing it! Use the book to learn it, but then put the book away. Only when a song is memorized does it come alive. Only then do you understand what the song is about and it becomes your song. You can then mold the song to your own interpretation. Singing a song is like telling a story – it doesn’t work well when you read from a book.

This advice is not meant to discourage anyone from coming to song circles, but rather to encourage them to make an investment that will pay dividends in their own and others’ enjoyment. So use the book, but don’t bring it to the circle! And you might also try to learn other songs that are “not in the book.”

Stewart Hendrickson