One of my favorite things is people singing together. I loved working as a counselor at summer camps because of all the silly songs we’d sing with the campers. My college has this tradition of students jumping into Frenchman’s Bay and swimming to a small island and back, after which we all sing this ridiculous, really long song that doesn’t really flow*. There was a lot of singing at my college, really. We had open mics where somebody would usually ask us all to join in a song we knew, or we’d all start singing along with somebody when they were struggling, or just because it was a fun song. In our dorm kitchen we once sat around and all sang songs from various camps we’d gone to (kids who went to quaker camp TOTALLY have the best songs!).
It is one of my favorite things about my college. People weren’t afraid of looking stupid there. Everyone was fairly supportive of everyone else, even if you weren’t really friends with somebody. Nobody was mocked. We had one guy who walked around campus all the time singing opera. It made me a little batty at times, but it was never a problem. You could often hear drumming somewhere on campus, people played wacky instruments, not always well, but usually with enthusiasm. Some days it felt like the number of acoustic guitars outnumbered the number of students. At open mics somebody would often run to the front and say, “I need a guitar!” and I never once saw them fail to get one in under 30 seconds. We really like singing.
My voice is nothing special. It verges on awful, really. True story: In 3rd grade our class was chosen to sing at the 8th grade graduation and I was the only one who was given a “special” job – I got to hand out programs. Luckily I have improved somewhat since then, but I still remember being told by my mother and my older brother how awful and monotone my voice was.
Singing in church was always one of my favorite parts for as long as I can remember going to church. At protests I always wanted to be singing instead of chanting. I am FOREVER trying to get groups of people to sing when we are hiking, or kayaking, or… frankly sitting around in a circle. At work when I would push kids on the swings I would sing to them, and with one of my kids I’d rub his head or his back as I put him to sleep and sing him the goodnight song**. When I would babysit for my friends’ kid I would sing to him as I rocked him to sleep. I just love singing with people. And I love that I have friends who will mostly indulge me in this on an occasional basis.
When I was in Phoenix to protest SB 1070 in July we did a LOT of singing. Mostly we sang the chorus to Amy Carol Webb’s song, “Stand.” But we also got a lot of use out of meditation on breathing, the only lyrics being, “when I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love.” We sang it over and over; part chant, part hymn, part simply something to focus on.
When I sat on the curb outside tent city and prayed while people yelled and sang and screamed around me we sang Meditation on Breathing. We were singing out loud, but with the cacophony around us it was hard to hear the person next to you. But when the noise would die I kept realizing that I was still keeping time with the person next to me. We were singing together but singing for ourselves at the same time.
I think the world would be a much better place if we all just sang more. Not all the time; we don’t need to order our lunch to the tune of Row Row Row Your Boat, but I really thing that song has the ability to bring us together in ways that talking doesn’t. We can sing in languages we don’t know (tell the truth: how many languages do you know Siyahamba in? I never even knew it as Siyahamba, but I knew Spanish, Hebrew, English, Chinese, and ASL all outside the context of church). We can all pick up on a song, or at least a tune, and connect with people without having to talk. We can all be a part of that mutual experience of music.
Singing together doesn’t have to be confined to drunken camaraderie around camp fires a couple times a year. Let’s all sing together more often.
*the first verse and chorus of the College of the Atlantic song is something like this:
Oh at College of the Atlantic
we have no fear of the sea
at least once every year
we dive into it merrily!
And some swim to Bar Island
And some swim back again
and some swim in the glory
of their very frozen friends
Oh it’s shiver down me timbers
and shiver down me bones
and shiver me all over
for the water is so cold!
for though it’s a hungry ocean
no matter come what may
at College of the Atlantic
we have no fear of the sea
**The goodnight song goes like this: “goodnight __, goodnight __, goodnight __, I’ll see you in the morning.” When I used it with kids at work I’d usually sing “Goodnight Sam, goodnight Sam, goodnight Sam, Mike will see you in the morning” obviously replacing “Sam” with my kid’s actual name and “Mike” with the name of whoever his staff would be in the morning. It was song AND preparing him to transition to a new staff the next morning. Because I was THAT good.