I have used this clip of Pete Seeger singing “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore” in class for some years, now. The song is a great example of how the music of the American slave cabins moved into the mainstream American culture, and then moved all the way to Australia where this clip was made in 1962 or so.
It also, I think illustrates two things about the audience, first that audiences in 1962 were very open to a “sing-a-long,” The audience knew the words, and sang along with Seeger quite competently, and in their own ways enthusiastically.
The difference is that my student audiences in Chico California, 2015, never ever give into the temptation to sing with this clip. They don’t even tap there foot—in other words they are stiffer than the stiff-necked Australians in the clip. My students today have been raised with YouTube, and prefer to let others do their singing for them, and I use this clip to tease them about their shyness.
But how things changed in six years. While wasting time on YouTube and Facebook this morning, I clicked on the classic version of Hey Jude made by the Beatles in 1969 when they appeared on the David Frost show. What I found interesting was the reaction of the audience to the sing-a-long version of Hey Jude, which had the easily remembered refrain of “na-na-na-na-na,” (starting at about 3:00) More interesting though is how the different parts of the audience responded. There is a group that is every bit as stiff as the Australians in the audience, but other parts of the audience are much looser, swaying with the music in a manner which would have seemed unseemly at Pete Seeger’s Australian concert.
To add to the fun, here is also a YouTube clip of Paul McCartney leading the audience of the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics. What has changed about the audience reaction between the Pete Seeger clip from 1962, and fifty years later at the London Olympics.
And to top off your time of assessing audience reception and sing-a-longs, check out this performance by Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen at the 2009 Obama Inaugural. Compare it for audience participation? What has changed across the four YouTube clips in terms of audience reception
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.