Michigan Radio’s Morning Edition host Christina Shockley talks with Neil Woodward, the state troubadour, for our ongoing series “Three Things.”
Neil Woodward starts off by explaining what it means to be Michigan’s state troubadour. “The word troubadour describes somebody that sings songs that tell stories,” explains Woodward, adding that the histories of cultures and civilizations used to be passed down from generation to generation orally, through song and poetry. As Michigan’s troubadour, Woodward specializes in the history of the Great Lakes Region.
For his first idea for the state of Michigan, Neil Woodward encourages citizens to contemplate what’s important in their lives. “We can clearly be doing a better job of pulling together and taking care of each other,” says Woodward.
Perhaps most importantly, Woodward wants to remind residents to recognize what they have to be grateful for. “Take a look around,” says Woodward, “This beautiful corner of the world we call home; this is a unique part of the world: The Great Lakes. There’s no place in the world like this.”
Once residents have recognized what it is that they value, Woodward urges them to work to preserve and nurture those things. Whether it’s local businesses, the children in our communities, the natural world, senior citizens, or our own health, Woodward wants people to actively protect those things they hold dear. “It’s all about trying to plan for the future and trying to leave this world in some kind of shape for the people who are going to be picking up the pieces,” says Woodward.
Not surprisingly, Woodward focuses on the value of arts and cultural activities for his third idea. “There’s just a lot of positive energy that comes out of something like, um, oh, singing?” jokes Woodward. Singing and other forms of artistic expression are too important to be left to professionals, says Woodward. He wants everybody to sing whatever they feel comfortable singing, whether they’re home alone or in front of a crowd. “It’s just a very positive thing to be doing,” Woodward adds.
Mr. Woodward sees parallels between the current situation in Michigan and the atmosphere across America during the Great Depression. Referencing the music and art that was created during the darkest economic period in our nation’s history, Woodward says, “When we look back on those days, we have a wealth of cultural information and very valuable things out there that tell our stories and that are worth preserving.”