Monday, January 7, 2019

Singing Saves the Soul and Soothes a Broken World

"Then the singing enveloped me. It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone's very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food."           
 --Anne Lamott, "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith"

My name is John and I love to karaoke: singing in public accompanied by a pre-recorded song, the louder, the better.

There: I admit it. I absolutely love grabbing a microphone at a house party or a local bar, picking out some moldy golden oldie from the past, preferably the nineteen seventies, and then singing out at the top of my lungs in front of a crowd, whom I hope will also join with me in singing and bringing joyful life to a tune, a song.

I wasn't always like this. For years I was a karaoke hater, which is pretty common. As the comedian Tom Dreesen notes, "Karaoke bars combine two of the nation's greatest evils: people who shouldn't drink with people who shouldn't sing." The world is basically divided into two camps: those who cannot stand karaoke and those who see it as an ultimate way to celebrate and have fun. Think the divide between Republicans and Democrats is a wide chasm? Try talking someone into singing karaoke if they just do not want to: it's basically impossible. Anti-karaokers would rather get a root canal without Novocain or watch a Presidential debate or sit through hundreds of YouTube cat videos than actually sing in public.

I get that fear. For a long time I didn't want to sing because I worried I would embarrass myself. It made me feel self conscious. I didn't want to sing because to get up in front of others and try to carry a tune is potentially very, very nerve wracking.  Glossophobia, fear of public speaking (and singing) is a phobia that upwards of 75 percent of folks suffer from. Many folks can't or won't sing because somewhere along the way in their lives some unthinking or clueless person--a music teacher, a parent, a sibling, a friend--told them that they had a bad singing voice. Then we go mute, sure that our out of tune crooning is somehow causing others to suffer.  

But still I challenge you to consider singing in this brand new year. Make it a resolution.   
It doesn't have to be at karaoke. Try singing in the shower or the car. Sing in church or a house of worship with a chorus of many others. Sing a hymn that you know by heart, a sacred song that moves you to tears. Sing while you clean the house or ride your bike or take a walk. Because singing: it always makes us feel more alive somehow. It opens up our lungs and our hearts. It stirs the soul and taps into a part of our brains that produce endorphins, hormones that flood our nervous systems and give us a natural high.  No drink or drug needed. 

Sing in a choir and the effect is multiplied. As the tall guy in the back row of the bass section in a local community choir these past eight years, I can truly say that some of my most life happy moments have come when I joined with 30 or 40 other folks and created music.  Even if you are not a singer now, I'll wager you can think back to moment in your life, perhaps as a child, when you did love singing, when singing was not about performance or judgment but instead just fun. Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream....

Just sing.

Given the current state of our world--the chaos, the cruelty, the division and the pessimism--it seems to me that singing out and singing loud and singing true and singing proud is as a good an antidote to hopelessness as any other activity.  Singing can and does actually change the world. What would the Civil Rights movement have been without "We Shall Overcome"? Singing brings beauty and art and truth to Creation.  Singing taps into a primordial urge within all humans souls. As long as we have been living as species we have also been singing.

To quote the philosopher duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter, "Sing, sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong. Sing of good things not bad. Sing of happy not sad....Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song."

And yes: that would probably make a great karaoke song.

Just saying. Just singing.



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