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Hold On, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Written November 8, 2021

 
One Friday night in 1965 when I was a wide-eyed freshman at Oberlin College, I wandered up to the student-operated radio station on the third floor of Wilder Hall.  From the lobby, or “outer office,“ I could look through a window into Studio A.

I was amazed to see it filled with people.  It was WOBC's live weekly hootenanny!

Andy Woolf was hosting.  Students were playing guitars and singing, surrounded by a happy crowd.  I remember noticing a pretty girl in white slacks sitting on the floor.

Not performing that night were the sister-and-brother duo of Karine and Mark Schomer.

Why weren't they around?  Karine had graduated with a degree in history a few months before.

Younger brother Mark wouldn't earn his degree in religion until 1968.  As a conscientious objector who was the son of the President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, he then went to the Congo.  After 2000, he lived in Guatemala.

I don't specifically recall encountering him during my years on campus, but the strong jawline of his senior photo does look familiar.

Below are the Schomers mock-fighting over one of their guitars in 2008.

About that time is when they discovered an old reel-to-reel “album” of folk and protest songs that they had made just before Karine graduated.  Perhaps they taped it in Studio A; WOBC did have a pair of relatively new Ampexes which were available for student recordings.

Amazingly, the tape was in perfect condition. It now lives on YouTube with the happy name “Mark and Karine's Top (and Only) Hits of 1965.”  Karine writes:

 
Those songs have been with us ever since — even as the times have changed, and folk music has retreated into a retro niche genre instead of being passed on organically to next generations.

The songs are a real window into the feel and spirit of those times among our earnest and idealistic liberal college-age cohort ...

shaped by President Kennedy's 'New Frontier', the hopes and momentum of the civil rights movement, the folk song revival in full swing, the voices of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Peter, Paul and Mary trio ...

not yet scarred by the Vietnam War, the assassination of Dr. King, the drug culture, increasingly confrontational politics, the decay of inner cities, the coarsening of culture and empathy ...

not yet dominated musically by the harsher and angrier sounds of the hard rock style that so took center stage in the musical memories of the later 60s generation.

Some of our songs on the tape are sweet ballads:

  0:00  We've Got Some Singing to Do
20:28  The Gypsy Rover
12:17  Kisses Sweeter than Wine

Several are staples of the folk repertoire:

29:16  Tom Dooley
33:26  The Midnight Special

Others are the gentle protest songs of the day:

  5:13  Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
31:03  How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down?

A couple are political satire songs that probably require explanation today. “The John Birch Society” [13:54] is a hilarious put-down of that very extreme and influential right-wing anti-communist organization, and “Go Barry Go!“ [7:59] is a song satirizing the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater who ran against Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 election.

We even included a French song from our childhood, “Les Chants d'Autrefois” [21:46], and a blues song composed by one of our classmates, “The Oberlin Finals Blues” [25:53].



It's, oh, them finals blues.
It's, oh, them Oberlin finals blues.

Sunday night, half past one —
How am I gonna get all my reading done?
Finals start on Monday morn,
But can't seem to make it past Chapter One.
     REFRAIN

I didn't get much sleep last night;
I was working on a paper till the broad daylight.
Finished it up at nine to the day.
Just another cup of coffee, Lord; I'll be okay.
     REFRAIN

What do they give us finals for?
I took that course and I don't want no more!
I've been to class almost every time,
But I didn't do the reading and I got behind.
     REFRAIN

What's one grade, Lord?  I still got four!
The only trouble is, it's one “F” more.
Teacher will pass me if I just repent.
All I need on that final is 200 percent.
     REFRAIN

(softly) Where in the world can I play my guitar?
It's two in the morning and I can't go far.
The girls are all sleeping; the housemother too.
When a girl gets the feeling, Lord, what can she do?
     REFRAIN



And, of course, we had the most beloved of the civil rights songs:

  2:41  Woke Up This Morning
  3:53  This Little Light of Mine
36:10  Wade in the Water
38:07  Hold On! Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

What a treasure! What a powerful set of memories it brings back to me!


EPILOGUE

During the Class Memorial Service at his 50-year reunion in 2018, Mark helped intone the names of deceased classmates.

Audio Link

:49

Entering 2021, Mark was a healthy and active 73-year-old, dreaming of new things he wanted to do.  He was finishing his soon-to-be-published autobiography, entitled Hold On: Trying to Help People in a Changing World.

On the eighth of May, he passed away from COVID-19.

Six months later, Karine remembered him on what would have been his birthday by sharing these recordings.  “My musical treasure gives me a uniquely intimate and powerful way to keep him alive in my memory.”

 

TBT

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