I was going to make this Day of Thanksgiving about music in general, for which I am indeed very thankful. I have to admit that I usually prefer to listen to instrumental, rather than vocal, music. But there is something about singing that sets it apart. Nothing can be more personal than when your instrument is your own body. It's very handy, too: your instrument is with you wherevery you go, and no one makes you check it with the luggage when you fly. On the other hand, a flute never catches the flu....

Best of all, singing is accessible. If there's ever been a culture that doesn't sing, I've never heard of it. Little children sing with great joy, at least until someone's unkind comment convinces them that they can't. With very, very few exceptions, people who say they can't sing—like people who say they can't do math—are victims either of someone's deliberate cruelty or of someone's poor teaching. Even those too embarrassed to sing in front of others can enjoy singing in the shower.

My father was always told as a child that he couldn't sing. I'm not a fan of college fraternities, but his story reminds me that not all fraternities fit the stereotype.

My parents felt that since I would be living at home I should join a fraternity in order to have some on-campus experiences. First I was rushed by my father’s former fraternity, but to me it seemed to contain all the undesirable elements of fraternities—they boasted about how many football players were members, how many parties they had, an atmosphere that bothered me—and I quickly lost interest. Later a faculty friend suggested his former fraternity and while I liked it better it still didn’t really appeal to me. About mid year I became acquainted with Alpha Kappa Lambda, a fraternity whose members neither smoked nor drank and that one I joined.

Nearly a third of the fraternity membership comprised music majors, and they prided themselves on their fine fraternity chorus. I no sooner had committed myself to the fraternity than the chorus director asked me what part I sang. I had always known that I could not sing and people, including my parents, never hesitated to tell me that I couldn’t sing. So that was my reply to the director. He called me over to the piano and had me sing scales and other notes as he played them. After several minutes of this he said, “You are a second tenor.”  Thus I became a member of the chorus. He had recognized that although I did not have a solo voice, I could match the piano tones accurately and thus could follow others and blend in with their notes.

This meant a great deal to me and brought much pleasure. And I owe much to the chorus leader for leading me into singing. In college the chorus sang quite often for various events and it allowed me to find a place in the church choir. And all three years I sang with the chorus we took first place in the annual competition among living group choruses. It also meant much to me after I left college....

"Did you know that singing and talking involve two different parts of the brain?  People who have lost speech due to a stroke can often still sing. Stutterers can usually sing fluently. The local pizza shop recognized a friend of mine by the fact that she would sing her pizza order."

Dad sang with a barbershop quartet after college, but what I remember best is his singing at home, usually folk songs, from Old World ballads to sea shanties to cowboy laments. That's a great gift to give a child. I wish I had given it to my own children, but I'm not as resilient as my father was, and still bear my own scars, from wounds inflicted by my junior high school music teacher (who was also—until she drove me out—my church children's choir director; it was a very small town).

Singing knits people together. It's a tragedy that family singing is a lost art. But that is one singing gift we were able to give our own children—not that we gave the gift, but we did put them (and ourselves) in a position to receive it. We have a set of musical friends with whom nearly every get-together ends with people gathered around the piano, singing. That's my idea of a party!  Depending on who is present, and the time of the year, the music may be choir anthems, or hymns, or Beatles songs, or Christmas carols, or popular music I've never heard of, but it's all wonderful fun. The following video is one example (there are more people behind the camera). It's my video, but I had refrained from posting it rather than bother to get permission from the singers. But now it has been made public, so I figure it's fair game. :)  By the way, don't be tempted to think badly of the people staring at their phones—they're reading the song lyrics.

I'm thrilled that our children and grandchildren know the joy of singing together. The adults and several of the children all play the piano, but you don't need that skill to sing as a family. They also sing a cappella. Unaccompanied singing can be beautiful, and teaches a good sense of harmony. And even though it's not my taste, there's always karaoke....

And it's never too early or too late. Children can sing in groups in school. Many churches and communities have children's choirs. The hardest years, I've found, are the middle ones, when one must juggle babies, and children ... and children's schedules. But after that, the opportunities open up again, with church choirs and community choruses. A few church choirs are too good, or require too much of a commitment, for timid singers, but most welcome anyone who will even try to sing on pitch—and the best way I know to learn to sing is to sing with others.

Go. Sing. Lift up your hearts and your voices, with thanksgiving.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Edit
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