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Sing along for peace, love and Hedgebrook
How much more powerful the message of peace when it is hollered beautifully through well-written songs.
Islanders will get a special treat when singer, songwriter and activist Holly Near joins emma’s revolution, an award-winning activist-singing duo, in a benefit for Hedgebrook at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28 in the Langley Middle School auditorium.
Near is a good friend of feminist guru and writer Gloria Steinem. The two spent some time at Hedgebrook together this summer, where Steinem has been working on her latest book. They were also featured in a sold-out town hall event in Seattle. Near brought the house down with some a cappella renditions of some of her songs. The audience sang along, never missing a word.
Inspired by the good work being done for writers at Hedgebrook, Near made room on her tour schedule with emma’s revolution to create a concert for Whidbey, with proceeds going to the women writers’ retreat in Langley.
Near has been a triple-threat combination of entertainer, teacher and activist for more than three decades, having made her career choice to become a musician at a young age.
In 1971, when she was 22, Near joined Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and other artists in the Free The Army Tour, singing to soldiers who were resisting war and racism from within the military. Near started writing and singing political songs. Following in the footsteps of such writers as Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Beverly Grant and Hazel Dickens, she added a newly discovered feminist perspective to anti-war songs and developed a unique and recognizable style.
Lucky to have the vocal talent that could have provided her with a singing career in any number of capacities, including as a theater artist on Broadway, Near made a choice to combine her passion for music with an equal passion for human dignity.
“I just do my part, not because I have to but because I want to. I want to live a conscious and creative life,” she said.
Indeed, Near has been an outspoken ambassador for peace since the early 1970s. She makes the effort every time she steps onto a stage to integrate a world consciousness into her art form.
On this latest tour with emma’s revolution, the three singers blend their impeccable talents for harmonizing with songs from Near’s repertoire such as “Listen to the Voices,” “Sky Dances” and “Fired Up,” along with new arrangements of “Study War No More” and “Sail Away Lady.”
Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow are the artists behind the equally politically active duo of emma’s revolution, named for Emma Goldman, the early 20th century political activist who was known for her writing and speeches, and who founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth.
Goldman would be proud to know her name lives on through such imaginative women who, like Near, combine their passion for a humane world with their talent for creating anthems.
Their song, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” is sung around the world and has been called the “anthem of the anti-war movement.”
It makes sense that Near has hooked up with emma’s revolution. These are singers who sing not out of despair and hopelessness for a world fraught with problems, but for all the benefits that come with living on this planet.
Near said that if she were to tell young people what she has learned from experience, it’s that everyone has their own power, and to recognize it early.
“This is the only planet we know of that has life on it like ours,” Near said.
“Wake up every day in awe and wonder that you get to be here. Go see it. Go feel it. Even if you find yourself in difficult situations, opt for fascination over fear and make the best of it. Don’t be less than who you are because of peer pressure or adult disinterest. When you are 60 you will wonder why you cared what someone in ninth grade thought about your beautiful self!”
Positive thinking is also a choice, and Near takes an active approach in that aspect of her life, as well.
“I take breaks from listening to and watching the news. It is always reporting misinformation and failure. It reports the worst of who we are,” she said. “So I turn it off and go watch people doing really wonderful things. That refuels me.”
Many of Near’s lyrics can attest to the effects of this conscious positivity. The words she wrote for “Singing With You,” (music by Jeff Langley) speak volumes to the stock Near puts into the power of song.
“Singing With You”:
Singing with you
Is the best thing that could happen
To me my friend
You throw me back a voice
That is a mighty bit more than
Making a dream come true
And when life is a burden
And every heart we know is
A hurting heart
The world is on trial
We’re walking a mile
And singing with you is a start
A start for me
For my heart
Oh, life is full
Of tides that pull
Oceans and hearts to shore
And I find it’s like
The heat of dancing feet
Keeping a body warm
I like the melodies
In evergreens, roaming winds
And rocky mountains
Summer storms and hawks that warn
Working hands and the
Miraculous birth of a child who
As for the naysayers who would argue that the world is going to hell in a handbag, Near counters that despite the fact that humans have been in and out of wars for centuries, have seen long periods of starvation in several areas of the world and have struggled to bring decent medical care to a large portion of the populace, the opposite is also true.
“Our ‘animal’ will go to heroic measures to save a life, to extend love and care. Remarkable. We are amazing creatures. We don’t always appear highly evolved, and then we sing together and someone is healed, or we plant fields and food grows. Amazing,” she said.
Tickets for the concert cost $20 for adults, $10 for students and seniors.
Tickets are for general seating and will be available at the venue’s will-call beginning at 6:15 p.m.