Singer Sam Lee on the Transformative Experience of Creating Songs in Collaboration With Nightingales
On the Emergence Magazine Podcast
Emergence Magazine is an online publication with annual print edition exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Our podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories and more.
In this interview, which weaves conversation, song, and the music of nightingales, folk singer Sam Lee speaks about the transformative experience of collaborating with nightingales, the stories of ancestors passed through folk music, and the space for communion that is opened with silence.
Sam Lee: I come from a nature study background, growing up at a wonderful [camp], similar to one of the summer camps that you’d have out in the States, a very alternative, left-wing radical organization called Forest School Camps that enabled a unique way for children, and then me as an adult, as a staff member, to grow up in a playful, a very community-orientated but also ecologically minded relationship with nature; that allowed me to grow a confidence in my being there, but also a confidence in myself.
And it went hand in hand with song, because the campfire singing tradition there was prolific like nowhere else I’ve ever come across. Hundreds of songs, many folk songs, many of the American classic folk songs, but a large proportion of traditional repertoire that spoke from that point of view of our elders, our ancestors, in the way that folk songs do so beautifully, which is to speak quite open heartedly about adoration of nature.
And that recitation and the repetition of melody over and over again, verse after verse, allowed me as a child and growing up to see the natural world through many eyes and many stories, and story being the most important part of our being in this world and in nature.
So it was sort of distilled in me from an early age. And in those songs, birds seem to appear everywhere, almost more prolifically than maybe one would have been aware just listening out to the sound world around. I befriended them, maybe before I’d even heard them. The nightingale I’d heard through folk song long before I got the opportunity to hear one. And, and the same with trees and what those trees and what those birds meant to those characters in those songs and giving a sense of an older wisdom that maybe I had an inclination towards.
Mercury Prize nominated Folk singer, song collector, promoter (of BBC award winning Nest Collective) radio host, TV personality, teacher and animateur, Sam Lee released his debut album Ground Of Its Own, comprised of songs learned 1st hand from the Gypsy Traveler community. The recording is a new musical manifesto, reflecting Sam’s unique artistic journey. Winner of the 2011 Arts Foundation Award, he is fast becoming accepted as a new pioneer, defining the sound, sight and texture of folksong today. Likewise his band, Sam Lee & Friends, perform unconventional and contemporary interpretations.