World’s best songbook

New edition continues to empower

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

Rise Again front cover_300dpi• As you read this, folks everywhere are singing their way through thumb-worn copies of Rise up Singing. First published in 1988 by Sing Out!, this songbook for group sing-alongs has circulated the planet – including China and Russia – without the benefit of commercial publicity or promotion. Now, millions of fans can’t wait to put their hands, voices and instruments to work and play on the Rise Again Songbook, the sequel to the best-selling “bible” of songbooks. Over 200 musicians, including Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, James Taylor and Bruce Springsteen donated the use of their songs for the book. One month after its initial publication, Rise Again, with 1,200 additional songs, is in its second printing.

Through word of mouth, Rise up Singing found its way into hundreds of thousands of living rooms, basements, schools, churches, gathering places and gig bags, including a box the late NDP leader Jack Layton carried around with him – particularly during campaigns – for sing-alongs.

From the Beatles to Broadway, from ballads to Bob, from Blues to British Invasion, including gospel, good time, Surf, protest and Earthcare music and jazz and swing, the two compact, spiral-bound collections contain lyrics and chords to several thousand popular songs.

The Rise songbooks enable singers to follow the same verses, in the same order, with chord cues for accompanists and harmony singers, indexed by artists and subjects for easy access. Their universal acceptance and success not only prove songbook power in our era of Smart-phones and tablets, but they also utilize technology, referencing artist websites and YouTube versions for melodies and more information.

Both Rise up Singing and Rise Again are the works of a Massachusetts-based Quaker couple, Peter Blood and Annie Patterson, who state, unequivocally and unapologetically, “The goal of our songbooks, music work and website is to encourage group singing in a wide variety of settings…to empower people’s lives, build community, strengthen people’s hope and resilience and help create a just and peaceful world.”

In 1979, they informally published Winds of the People, an “underground book” containing not-fully-licensed and public domain songs. It immediately sold 30,000 copies. Encouraged by high demand, they spent years – in the pre-Internet age – painstakingly transcribing albums and even more painfully pursuing permission to publish the lyrics.

“We wanted songs that lent themselves to singing in groups, that were not too obscure, had an emphasis on empowering and positive messages,” they recalled. They never anticipated the reception awaiting Rise up Singing, let alone the loud cries for an encore.

“The best, most exhilarating and glorious singing history…more than a lovely songbook…a play-work-fight-freedom hymnal,” opined the late, iconic Studs Terkel. “Worth devouring by all those who love to sing. A true treasure!” added Joan Baez. “Going to make a qualitative difference in music in America,” Pete Seeger, joined in, shortly before his death. (See Common Ground’s front cover tribute, March, 2014.)

Blood had edited Seeger’s autobiography, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir, and Seeger was instrumental in the song selection and publication of both songbooks. In fact, he claimed the introduction he wrote in Rise Up Singing was the best, most widely read composition he ever wrote and he included it in the popular film-bio, Power of Song. However, it is his preface to Rise Again that really resonates in Seeger’s remarkable legacy and best endorses the songbooks:

“Why is singing good for the planet? Nobody can put it in words. But if there is a human race here in a hundred years, my guess is that one of the main reasons will be we found ways we can sing together – different religions, different languages. The act of singing together makes us realize we’re human beings – we can’t put it in words. And to a certain extent all the arts are important that way – the dancing arts, the cooking arts, the humour arts.

“But the older I get, the more I’m convinced that, if there’s a human race here, singing will be one of the main reasons why. Singing together, not solo singing. Singing together. Families can sing together and strangers can sing together. People who think they hate each other can sing together. And perhaps if we find the right songs, people so filled with hate they carry a gun with them – we can reach them too. Who knows?”

Rise Again (pub. Hal Leonard) also has much more Canadian content, extending beyond Lightfoot and Buffy Sainte-Marie, as well as about 50 songs on subjects from Laura Secord to Louis Riel and contemporary, semi-obscure compositions of James Keelaghan, Ron Hynes and others. For more information, search Rise up Songbook.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.


Music Notes

Mark Hellman with guitar
photo by Peter Pokorny

Pete Seeger remembered

November 4-14
Firehall Arts Centre

To fully experience the life and music of Pete Seeger, don’t miss Mark Hellman’s (pictured) highly recommended, powerful one-man performance, The Incompleat Folksinger. For ticket info, visit

Pope Francis’ Pop-Rock Album

And if you still don’t believe in the power of music, check out “rock star” Pope Francis’ prog-rock debut album Wake Up! (November 27 release). A review and sample audio track of Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!, are featured in the September issue of Rolling Stone. Google: Pope Francis’ Pop-Rock Album.

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