This Is Why We Keep On Singing
I’ve been reflecting on the power of music this week – and since yesterday, the power of the human voice.
Here in Alberta, new Government guidelines for outdoor events are opening up many activities starting tomorrow as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, but public singing is not coming back just yet. If I’m reading correctly between the lines, public singing as we know it may be one of the last activities to return. As this New York Times article points out, it’s a lot more dangerous than you’d assume to sing together.
It may be months before we are allowed to sing in public and longer until many feel safe to do so.
I’m processing my feelings about all of this.
My first reaction was defensive fear.
Singing in public is part of my livelihood. I haven’t had a public gig in three months and it could be at least that long yet before anyone will book me. I’m losing money every month and not able to make the investments I’d like to in my career. It’s not crippling me but the Coronavirus is pressing pause on many or my plans.
Next, I felt sadness and loss.
I started to question what singing really means to me – why this feels like an important loss. I’m still sorting through that this morning. I am grieving.
One reaction has been to champion instrumental performances in place of singing. I’m all for live music of any kind and this may be the moment for local instrumental performers to shine. That is good. Still, instrumental music is not the same thing as singing. Singing does something different.
In normal times, we don’t need anything but ourselves to make music. We all have a natural instrument – the human voice. Other instruments offer us ways to mediate the music we hear in our head and certainly instruments broaden our sonic palette and create a richer experience. But we don’t need anything but our selves to make music.
Singing is our natural musical state and there’s great value to it beyond just making great music.
Musician Maya Rogers wrote an excellent piece for the DIY Musician blog called ***[The Healing Power of Your Voice: 7 Reasons Why Everyone Should Sing](https://diymusician.cdbaby.com/musician-tips/the-healing-power-of-your-voice-7-reasons-why-everyone-should-sing/#:~:text=Singing makes us feel good.&text=Endorphins are released when we,of trust and well-being.)***. It’s a short read and worth your time. I won’t go into all seven reasons here, but there are a few I want to highlight.
Singing is healthy.
She cites the health benefits of singing – like the way singing is an aerobic activity because of the amount of oxygen it delivers to the brain. That deep breathing can reduce stress – which is something we can all use right now.
Singing is unifying.
Another thing we can all use right now is unity. A reminder that we are all connected. Singing draws us together and works on us in collective physical ways. Rogers writes,
“It has been suggested that singing in groups can result in a phenomenon called entrainment. The pulses of the singers synchronize as one collective heartbeat. In the same way, standing firmly in who we are reveals that we are part of one massive system, the heart of humanity.”
Singing together is a reminder that we are not alone – a metaphor for the ways our differences blend together to voice a richer harmony in the world.
Singing is disarming.
The act of singing, even by oneself, is a vulnerable act. This is why so many of us feel we cannot sing and don’t, unless we are all by ourselves. This is why I feel nervous to sing in my own home when others are around, even though I don’t have issues singing on a stage. Singing can be so intimate and invite such abandon.
Rabbi Benjamin Shalva put it this way for The Washington Post,
“As the song builds, as we arch our backs in ecstasy, we may feel a lot like we’re out in the open making love. We are. Our song is a lover’s song. Our ecstasy begins deep in our belly. If we spend a great deal of energy putting ourselves together, clothes and hair, pressed and coiffured, personae carefully cultivated, the intimacy of song will feel threatening. We’re losing our cool, expectorating, vibrating, out of control.
And if we travel far enough on the path of song, we risk triggering something truly transformational. Our own preschooler will emerge. The child in us will leap out and go wild. We do not act like children when we sing. We become children when we sing. We sing like we’re fresh from the womb, new to this earth, releasing with raw, uncultivated abandon. Wild like a child.
Many of us don’t want to go there. We feel ashamed of our wild child. Who knows what he or she might do?
His whole piece is laced with wonderful gems like this. It reminds us why singing matters with a simple story, just like this inspiring TEDx talk from Tania de Jong.
As we cancel our vacations and get ready for a summer close to home, if not in our homes, we all need a release. Singing out loud is one of the simplest releases we all have access to.
I’m not saying I disagree with my government’s guidelines around singing. I understand the risks and I can imagine how difficult it must be to balance immediate physical health with long-term mental health. That balance is critical, and singing – alongside so many “non essential” arts – is a piece of that puzzle.
Singing While We Wait
Knowing that singing holds healing power for us here and now, I’d encourage you not to wait until the stages reopen and the church choirs fill the loft. Find ways to sing now and if there is a safe way to do so, sing with others.
Last night I sat in my backyard with musician and neighbour Lora Jol and sang with another person for the first time in months. It was life-giving. It reminded me just how much this matters.
Tonight, I’ll be on Facebook as I have been every Thursday since the pandemic hit our area in March. I will keep on singing, and inviting you to join me, from wherever you are.
I won’t be able to hear you but I guarantee you’ll feel better when we’re done.