Preface: It’s finally out! The 3rd Edition of the Soulful Singing Sisterhood is ready for songstresses (and songsters) to enjoy and create with! This edition has taken 3 years to be updated; songs have been added, removed, added again, removed again. Prefaces finished and scrapped. It’s far from perfect, but this book is so incredibly important to me because it represents the seeds of my growth and subsequent cultivation of knowledge around song sharing and understanding my own culturally appropriative, colonialist, and extractivist ways. Honestly, I’m glad it took me this long to update, because in these 3 years my perspective on song sharing has changed so deeply that I can barely recognize the well meaning woman who wrote the previous editions. To quote a favorite meme by Tony Goldmark: “Normalize changing your opinion when presented with new information” and another approach by Dr. Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
All profits from the Songbook will be donated to Sogorea-Te Land Trust, Community Ready Corps/ APTP, Kahea Land Defense, and RAICES.
This book (pdf and hardcopy) come with an online membership with access to video tutorials of learning the songs, audio files, and a community of folks all learning together!
Click on the image below to view the first 10 pages (preface + table of contents)
The whole reason I started compiling songbooks was for my students who were learning how to open their voice and learn music while working with me. It felt good having a ‘common language’ of songs that we could all sing and share with one another. And the whole reason I started teaching was because I was stuck with a pretty debilitating case of vocal shame that slowly started unearthing at 25 and then crescendo’d into my life path at 27. Song became my souls salvation.
My foundation started in the Jewish kids choir at Rodef Shalom, the local synagogue. I don’t remember having a lot of shame around my voice back then- mostly I was just stoked to sing. As I grew older it became less safe for me in the largeness of who I am and the shame piled on, and after years my voice got stuck somewhere and letting it out was nearly impossible. I couldn’t even sing when I was alone because I was sure that the spirits were judging me.
My singing voice was silent for nearly a decade, and I literally felt like a shell of a human until (long story short) my voice erupted at 27. At the time, I was smack-dab in the center of the New Age ideology that ‘we are all one’. With a mindset like that, it’s easy to take from others without too much thought- especially when everyone around you is doing the same thing, especially teachers and leaders and folks I looked up to for guidance. From singing songs from other cultures all around the world (without explanation of where they came from or what they mean), to putting them in songbooks (without credit) and then profiting off the books (without reciprocity), to performing the songs and gaining recognition with the sacred songs of others (without permission AND when just a hundred years ago our ancestors would literally imprison, torture, or kill Indigenous people for practicing their spirituality and singing their songs), it’s not entirely surprising that I started to steal songs too. In my early days I thought that by sharing the authors and lineage was good enough, so I wrote myself a permission slip to perform and profit from songs that weren’t mine. I’m grateful to have been lovingly called in by my friend Kelsey. Initially I was defensive, and it took me a few years to understand what she was pointing to in my own appropriation, but it shifted the course of my life.
To some of you reading this, appropriation may be new information. It may feel extreme. And look. I get it. People have been sharing songs since the dawn of time. But I think I doubled down on helping to educate folks on “Integrous Song Sharing” once I started seeing the pretty terrible way songs are typically shared in New Age circles. Up at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Northern Oregon, the light-hearted music director shared a song circle. Pretty much every song he shared was incorrect in some way, with no credit, and there was some really racist stuff going on (like butchering “We n’ de ya ho’, a Cherokee Morning Song, and insinuating folks play ‘Indian’ ala ‘dancing like we’re at a pow-wow’). While not all song circles are so obviously problematic, this way of sharing still exists with micro and macro aggressions, and the negative impact on historically oppressed folks runs deep.
The initial 3rd edition preface aimed to express how I want to share these songs, and that (at the time) I hadn’t asked permission from most folks to share them, which got me questioning my own motives. I dove deeper and realized that it was not ok to be printing and sharing songs that came from any lineage that my ancestors oppressed. It meant knowing exactly where these songs come from, and giving direct acknowledgment and attribution (and in some cases reciprocity) to those who received the songs, and not including traditional songs with no author. At first, I thought that finding the writers would be challenging, but wings seemingly carried my emails to the right folks, and I was graciously invited to share these songs by many who I have deep love and respect for. My heart warms at the fact that more and more of the songs come from my students, friends, and people I’m in direct relationship with, and I hope this inspires you to cultivate your own songs. There’s nothing like singing and sharing a song that you helped give birth that encompasses the notes of your soul.
In sharing these songs, please give proper credit to where they come from. If you decide to share any of these songs, give the original author and lineage attribution. Stay awake and aware in song sharing environments. For too long, white-led spaces have been appropriating the songs of many for their own benefit. You can be a voice for bringing awareness and ending the extractivist lineage of song sharing. You may ruffle some feathers, but to those who’s culture has been systemically oppressed and then appropriated, it’s the least we can do. If you’d like more guidance, I’m all yours.
What is clear to me is that if cultural sharing is ever going to be possible in a balanced way, a massive redistribution of power is needed. All the proceeds from this book are being donated to BIPOC-led organizations- some of my favorites being Sogorea-Te Land Trust, KAHEA Defense, RAICES, and APTP (Anti Police-Terror Project). Check out the back of the book to learn more about these amazing orgs. Thank you to Kelsey Gustafson for being one of my initial new-age-bubble-poppers and to Anjali Nath Upadhyay of Liberation Spring to help me plant seeds and pull weeds. If you’re ready to dive deep into your own decolonization, I couldn’t recommend Anjali enough.
This third edition reflects a massive edit of the previous songs in how they were structured so that time signatures and measures make a bit more sense. I’ve added songs that have pulled my heart-strings written by my favorite singing sisters, my students, and musicians who are all diving into the world of soulful song and sharing their sweet sounds. The incredible art throughout the book was hand painted by my longtime student Kristen Myers (IG: @Beautyweaving). The cover was heavily inspired by Tamara Phillips (Spirit Weavers) with permission. And huge waves of gratitude to Louise Cottrell for helping me edit this book! Holy moly, without all your help who knows where we’d be.
I really care about this music and my role as an educator and I believe that healing and liberation comes from the acknowledgement of mistakes and moving forward with new insight. In 2 months my awareness around song sharing may very well change, who knows! There are no clearcut rules and I’m offering just one perspective. I’ve included songs that I didn’t get implicit permission to use because they were already recorded and published by the original artist or come from my lineage (Jewitch-American-Euromutt). I wish you strong lungs and tuned ears for this musical journey ahead!