What gives us resilience? It’s a pertinent question these days, with our country dealing with the twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism. While no recipe exists for resilience, we can find the ingredients all around us — beauty, hope, community.
All these ingredients come together in one of the tracks from Simply Folk’s 40th anniversary CD, "My Bird Can Sing," by Willy Porter and the Carpe Diem String Quartet. At the time of the recording, the quartet consisted of Chaz Wetherbee on violin, John Ewing on violin, Korine Fujiwara playing viola, and Kristin Ostling playing cello. Porter and the quartet talked with former "Simply Folk" host Stephanie Elkins in 2012 and shared their collaboration and arrangement on this tune written by Porter.
The Milwaukee-based Porter and quartet were brought together by one of the quartet’s board members who happened to be a big Willy Porter fan. Their collaboration crosses boundaries of folk, Americana and classical music, and that mix of styles suits this song perfectly.
Inspired by Maya Angelou and her book, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings", the lyrics speak of hope and resilience, when Porter sings:
someone knocked you down
they can’t steal your soul away
you alone have the final say
what is it about your world
that keeps you hoping?
let it out in the open
the coast is clear
my bird can sing
my bird can fly
not meant to be in a cage
she belongs to the sky
The lyrics’ welled-up hope can be felt with the pulsing of the quartet’s strings and then given flight as they soar over Porter’s voice, which rises up to meet the music. The beauty of the music is a perfect match for the sentiment expressed in the song and the community found in this genre-crossing collaboration.
At a time when we our resilience could use a shot of hope, beauty and community, "My Bird Can Sing" provides us with the perfect recipe.