Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 99%, Singing

It wasn't long ago that my husband and I were watching (again) the quirky little picture, "Four Weddings and a Funeral."  I'm not going to say that this is one of my favorite films or anything, but it was on, and I do kind of like the whole idea of the action and plot revolving around these rituals.  Near the beginning, during the first wedding, actually, there's a great scene of the congregation SINGING.  And some of them, when they zoom in, are singing quite badly, which, I suppose, is meant to be funny, but I found it to be charming.  I noticed this little moment more than usual, because it is really quite unusual for people to be singing at a wedding anymore.  There have been lovely exceptions, in my experience as a pastor, but those singing weddings have been the exception, and not the rule.

It's not just at weddings that people don't sing.  People just don't sing together like they used to. (Do they?)   We had a piano in my home growing up, and my mom and dad used to sing while my mom played standards from their era.  We used to sing songs while we were traveling in the car together -- you know, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Are You Sleeping?, Down By the Old Mill Stream.  And at the church we visited last weekend, a lovely church by many accounts, mostly the people stood and remained silent during the hymns (some of which I didn't know, either), except for "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." 

Church used to be the last refuge of group singing, except that people don't even sing in church the way they used to.  Maybe it's the numbers of people getting smaller, or maybe it's the songs getting newer, or maybe it's the loud bands, or maybe it's just that people think that, except "Happy Birthday" and "Take Me Out To The Ball Game", singing is for professionals, not for them. 

You know, the 1%.  The wealth of singing is being re-distributed upwards.  And that's as much a shame as our other forms of wealth being re-distributed upwards.  Because there's a poverty in losing our singing voices and our songs, and there's a power in singing.

I was so excited this year that one of the new features at the Minnesota State Fair was the "Great Minnesota sing-along."  The idea was there was this list of 100 favorite songs and a specially designated area for people to stand and sing along while the words were posted for all to see.  But the song that played while we visited?  "Benny and the Jets."  Now, I have nothing against this song as a SONG, but it really isn't a sing-along type of song.  It's a song for soloists to shine while people maybe join in on that fun little phrase, "B-B-
B-Benny and the Jets."  And Elton John, the star, plays that mean piano.

Like I said, the 1%.

When I was in high school, I sang in the choir.  I never got into the choir in college, but I enjoyed singing in choir in high school, and in church, and on other occasions.  And of course we weren't the 99% but we were more the 1%, those of us who took the course and learned to read music and sing in harmony.  We were a choir, but still a bunch of amateurs who did the best we could.  Even though there were mistakes when we got to the concert, I experienced this great power in singing together, in breathing in and out and hearing the sound come out of all of us.  Afterwards, I would go home so high on singing that I would go downstairs and play the piano and sing for another hour or so, until I was hoarse. 

There's a power in singing.  I can't grasp it with my hands, or explain it entirely.  Singing makes you feel like you can do things that are impossible.  Singing unites people, while respecting their individuality.  Each voice particular, but singing songs about Jesus, about love, about justice -- together.  Singing expands you.  The things you sing get way down into you.  Sometimes it's the blues.  Sometimes it's a song of thanksgiving.  Sometimes it's a vision of a better world.    But the wealth of singing is being re-distributed upward, and there's more than one kind of poverty among us. 

There's a place for soloists, and a place for good singers, too.  I'm no singing socialist.  But there also needs to be a place for everybody to sing, and to know the power in singing, even badly.   It's not all about the perfect soloist and the band that never makes mistakes.  It's about us, in our imperfect lives and voices, reflecting God.   The church could lead the way, help people to open their mouths, expand their lives and find out how powerful they are. 

Since it's Advent, maybe we can start with "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."    What do you say?


8thdayplanner said...

This is such a great observation! Much like the loss of town squares for social gatherings, it seems that the more social media we have, the less social we are actually becoming.

I'll be thinking about this for awhile . . . while I sing O come, O come Emmanuel . . .

Di said...

YES. Yesyesyesyes. To all of this.

Also: when I got married, we had those assembled sing "Ode to Joy" for our recession. They DID sing, and it was splendid. Favorite wedding memory.

Diane said...

thanks for the feedback, 8th day and Di!

And Di, I think I would have enjoyed your wedding ;).

Diane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I've wondered about the lack of singing. In our church, the few teens that are there don't sing, even the ones who take choir in school. But what really surprises me is the number of people my age and older who never sing. And a significant proportion of those people don't even open the book during the songs. While I can't know what is in their head, wouldn't you think that since our services are participatory, that it would be a drag to attend and not participate? I'm in the choir, so I can see what is going on. It is also so sad to think that there is this basic core of knowledge, reading music, that is being lost in so many homes because music isn't something that people do.

Deb said...

Fascinating thoughts. Yes, I have seen a downturn in singing at weddings. I wonder about the UK wedding expectations, though, as I seem to remember the last Royal Wedding had quite a bit of (loud and enthusiastic) singing in it.

As far as congregational singing goes, there are some terrible terrible hymns out there. The tunes are boring, the lyrics are contrived... and some of them go on and on. Then there's praise choruses which numb you to death. And the rockstar wannabe worship songs which DO NOT translate into a modern sanctuary. Having said that, I do occasionally lead worship. My main criteria is "is it singable?" followed by "is it God-focused?" and then "does it edify?" (which allows for songs which are "we focused" as well.

OK, I'm getting on a soapbox. I'll stop. Great post! :)

Lindy said...

I sing everyday, whether I need to or not. My grandfather used to sing while he was driving, just quietly singing to himself. Maybe I learned it from him. I don't usually sing songs you'd know, though sometimes I do, but more often I just make them up as I go along.