Mark Dvorak to pay tribute to Pete Seeger in Steel Beam show

By Kathy Cichon Aurora Beacon-News

AUGUST 15, 2016

At age 18, Mark Dvorak bought his first guitar - while working in a xylophone factory.

“I didn’t even know what the place made,” he said of taking the job. “it was owned by the Ludwig Drum Company. It was called Musser. I needed a job, I was 18. The labor union we were in was the same union as a guitar company.”


Instruments with slight imperfections were made available to the union members at reasonable prices, Dvorak said, including the guitar he bought.

“I think it cost me $40,” he said. “It’s still up in the attic somewhere.”

He had taken violin lessons as a child, but didn’t want to continue. While his brothers played guitar, they gravitated toward rock and blues.

“I always liked folkier sounds,” Dvorak said. “Jame Taylor; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Bob Dylan. So the acoustic guitar is the one I wanted to learn to play. And then later came the banjo.”

Dvorak who this year celebrates his 30th year as a faculty member of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, will perform “The Power of Song,” a tribute to the late folk music legend Pete Seeger, at 7:30 pm August 20 at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.

“I go out about every year to do a concert for them, and this year I thought we’d bring our chorus out and get everybody singing along to some of the great songs that Pete Seeger left us.”

Dvorak will be joined by the 10-member Old Town School Folk Chorus, which has perfofmred with him in the last two years about 30 concerts in honor of Seeger, who died in January 2014 - a few months shy of his 95th birthday. Seeger, whose career spanned 70 years, is known for such classics as “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Dvorak said Seeger was a visionary who understood the power of folk music to unite people.

“His music spread around the world, and generations of people are familiar with his music. In his own words, Pete said ‘I’m more interested in putting a song on your lips and less interested in putting one in your ears.’” Dvorak said. “He was never a big fan of the celebrity stardom that a lot of artists enjoyed. In a strange way he sort of bridged both of those worlds. He was a celebrity and he was a big star but he always worked mainly on the local level, but in his music and other activities and environmental activism… He touch a lot of lives and it resonates.”

Seeger and Dvorak, who was part of WeaverMania! - a tribute to Seeger’s folk quartet The Weavers - performed together in 2002. Seeger was in Chicago at the time to receive a lifetime achievement award for his work as an environmental activist and performed with WeaverMania!

“We got a chance to really get to know one another, and we had talked on the phone several times and exchanged letters over the years. I wasn’t really, really close to him, but Pete in an interesting way, always made it his business to find out what other people were doing, and working on,” Dvorak said. “WeaverMania! functioned as a kind of tradition-bearer, bringing old songs to new audiences. He was extremely interested in that… He was also a little critical too. He said, ‘Well, those are great old songs,’ then he goes, ‘Where are the new ones?’ Which is really cool in a way. We took it to heart and developed some new material. that was a very meaningful time for me.”

Dvorak, who lives in Riverside, has recorded with WeaverMania! as well as releasing sixteen solo albums. He is currently writing songs, and plans to record a CD of banjo music, as well as a colleciton of pop standards from the 1930s and 40s.

At a recent concert, audience members asked if young people are learning folk music ast the Old Town School. Students, he said, are creating their own music, but are also looking to the past.

“It’s a different take from the thing we remember as folk music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. So it’s evolving.” he said. “And what I’m encouraged by is there are young people that are going back to the old songs… I think that young people are looking to embrace their roots or find their cultural roots and their creative roots. And folk and blues is a way to do that. It’s not necessarily Grammy Award-winning music, but it’s real music.”

Folk music, he said, is intimate and rich, often offering a personalized experience.

“I think it speaks to our deeper sensibilities as thinking human beings and feeling human beings,” Dvorak said. “It speaks of pain and loss. It speaks of suffering and it speaks of celebration. I think in this election year, thos are important topics.”

Music, he said, provides a place where people can agree.

“When we all sing together, we don’t have to recognize immediately that some of us are conservatives and some of us might be progressives…” Dvorak said. “But if we’re all looking for harmony on a song like ‘This Land is Your Land,’ we have a place to begin. We have a place to agree.”

Once while having lunch together, Seeger told Dvorak something that has stayed with him through the years.

“He said in our conversation, the thing I don’t ever want to forget: ‘Never underestimate the power of bringing harmony into the world.’ Harmony goes on. We carry it forward in our lives. Just like when hatred and violence gets carried forward. Music is a tool we can use to battle those. So I never forgot that. And I think about it all the time. I think about it every day. We’re musicians, and one of our jobs it to bring harmony into the world, to teach harmony. I think that’s what Pete was all about in the end. It’s a very simple premise: Let’s make harmony. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can make harmony together.”

Kathy Cichon is a freelance writer.

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