GREENFIELD — The song was called “Love Light” — or was it “Love Life”?
Nobody seated in the small circle of about a dozen people, some holding a guitar, percussion instrument or harmonica, knew the lyrics. But Peter Lawrence, of Bennington, Vt., knew the chord progression and the basic melody, and he started to strum. Luckily, some members of the group had done this before.
Local Jasper Lapienski started to hum, while Steve Kriger, of West Roxbury, started picking away at the high notes of his acoustic guitar, adding a solo to the three-way improvisation. Others joined in, the song swelling with different textures, each from a different instrument or voice, but all on-time and on-key.
Host Seth Handelman, of Hinsdale, N.H., smiled and said, “This is how the Grateful Dead got started,” but it was Kriger who broke into song, coming up with original lyrics on the spot:
“In Greenfield, we look in our spirits, we look in our hearts,” he sang. “We just keep going, making a new start.”
Saturday was a session of Freedom & Struggle Song Swap, an event held on the fourth Saturday of each month at 5 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Church Street. January’s Song Swap will be on the third Saturday, Jan. 18.
The event is affiliated with the People’s Music Network, an organization that looks to bring local musicians and artists together to create music while spreading political messages about peace.
The Song Swaps are a place where musicians, friends and anyone who likes to sing or hear music can get together and jam, either playing their own original songs or a song written by another artist, notable or not, in a group circle format.
Handelman shared a song he wrote called “Open,” inviting others to join in “as little or as much” as they want.
“You and I, face-to-face,” he sang while playing his guitar. “When I’m afraid of you and you’re afraid of me, this road of hurt is endless.”
According to Handelman, he wrote the song thinking about the new year, and hoping that people with differences can come together peacefully.
“My brother is an ultra-conservative, and I’m pretty much the exact opposite. When we get together, what do we do? We talk about the same songs we like,” Handelman said.
“Everything is so polarized,” he added. “(There are) some ways people can get beyond politics and just recognize each other as people.”
Each member of the group, through music, was able to express whatever message they would like. Lapienski divided the group into sections of a choir, and had each section sing a religious phrase from a different language, layering the ancient words into one multi-cultural, multi-religion song.
Kriger got to sing some Bob Dylan, reminiscing about how, “47 years ago, after I went through my Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin phase and have been in love with folk rock since,” he heard “I Shall Be Released.” Dave Gott, of Greenfield, brought his banjo and had others join him in an original song.
And Iris Polley, Handelman’s friend, also from N.H., attended not as a musician, but just to enjoy the experience. She said she wanted to give singing in front of other people a try.
“All the political struggles were taken, so I’m going to go into some personal struggles,” she said. “I was always shy about singing. This was a way for me to branch out more.”
Reach David McLellan at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.