Monday, December 20, 2010


We used to sing.

Sure, some of us still do. I have two or three friends who are bona fine opera singers, and I know countless more folks who sing for smaller or larger portions of their suppers in church choirs, chamber choirs, symphony choirs, etc. They're trained, most of these singers. They've been given specific instructions on how to inhale and exhale, how to shape their vowels, whether to roll or flip their /r/s.

But what about the rest of us? What about those of us whose idea of proper singing technique starts and ends with opening our mouths?

Casual singing, day-to-day singing, is in a bad way. There may be a hundred contestants yelping their dignity away on American Idol, but you have only to stand in a Sunday morning congregation to observe people whispering the words of the hymns, frowning at their upside down hymnals, zoning out, or snapping shut their books. Gone are singalongs, caroling parties, lullabies. Singing has become like surgery, something you're only supposed to undertake if you know what you're doing.

Which is a pity. Not that I am so hungry to be serenaded by our enmassed and tuneless populace, but there is something visceral about singing, some basic human quality that's tough to articulate and even tougher to do without. We open our mouths together; we sing. We don't do it for remuneration or praise or to hear the sounds of our own voices: we do it because we can, because we can do it together, because our throats are choked with song.

This month, I've decided, is for singing. I crooned the communion anthem yesterday. This evening, I'm headed over to a friend's house to howl madrigals. Last weekend, I donned a silly hat, grabbed a mug of nog, and belted the indifferently-voiced alto lines of Christmas carols all up and down the rain-soaked streets. It was not lovely and amazing. It was not even lovely. Nevertheless, there I went, human and making noise.


Anonymous said...

It's not just singing that now has to be undertaken by trained professionals, it's most forms of music.

Why? Sousa thought it was because of recordings. See 'The Menace of Mechanical Music'

- Will, Esq.

Anonymous said...

Follow-up link of a similar viewpoint:

- Also Will, Esq.

Ellie said...

I sing! Not always well, but if I am singing, you can bet I'm in a good mood. Was it you who first pointed that out to me?

I also sing a lot at work, but I don't think that makes me a professional singer. Last night, Joseph and I cheered up at bitty little girl out past her bedtime at the laundromat with the perennial classic, "Slippery Fish." I don't even think she spoke English, but she understood that music was fun.

Anne said...

Hmmm...can't click through the links. But I agree, Will (cograts, btw!) that it's all kind of music. Except I think the loss is greater with singing, because that's really the most basic music-making, requiring no instruments or time to learn instruments or anything other than your own anatomy.
@Ellie: Slippery Fish!

wombat said...

This is not a true, blanket statement. I know people who go carolling at old folks homes while drinking mulled wine, who sing hymns with embarrassing abandon, and who sing off key in the car with their friends with no remorse. Has our public perception of music making changed? Of course. Is it a lost cause everywhere? Absolutely not.