When I was a kid, my teacher would take our class to watch local musicals and I would always wonder: why don’t people in “real” life sing in public? The answer I came up with as a child was that people must have sung together on street corners or when they were baling the hay or gathering after supper, just like the people on stage did, and somewhere, somehow they stopped. The singing-on-street-corners world was the world I wanted to live in as a child, and I still dream of this world.
I was reading a blog entry a few months ago that was about singing (Survision: Bird gotta sing). A woman named Linda commented on the post: “I have this theory–as recorded music became more omnipresent, we stopped singing to ourselves in our own private operas. What a loss to human culture. Singing becomes a performance instead of a private yoga. I was particularly aware of this change in culture when I was a union organizer. I just don’t understand how you can have a revolution without singing together. I doubt it’s ever happened.”
Hmmm. That’s a theory that makes sense to me. We stopped making our own music when “professionals” came into vogue and people specialized into career tracks—some people became professional musicians, and the rest of us stopped singing and and just listened. (After all, we aren’t as “good.”)
Almost two years ago I started a music circle at my house. There are a couple guys who are both accomplished musicians, as well as exceptional in supporting all of us “non musicians.” But honestly, the most special moments are often when someone belts out something without the music, making it up in the moment. It isn’t about performance, it’s about communion. I always feel like I’m in church, singing to God. We always end the night with full hearts.
Public singing was the topic of an NPR program last summer–“Find Your Inner Broadway and Let it Out.” Marc Acito was the person being interviewed. Unfortunately, the program didn’t start a public singing revolution, but maybe there’s still hope. Lately I’ve noticed myself singing about whatever I have in my head—trying to find my keys, looking for the parking spot, and even last night when I couldn’t sleep I started singing, “I’m so happy….” playing with various pitches in the melody (I really don’t know where that song came from, it was just there.) As Marc Acito wrote in his blog: “When the emotion is so big, all you can do is sing.”