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Adam Blatner

(RePosted September 18, 2011)
   See: Singing 4 Fun Song-Sheets,   Simple Heart-Songs  

Sing! Sing a song. Make it simple, to last your whole life long.
Don't matter if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear!
Just sing!  Sing a song!

  -- This song, by Joe Raposo, from the Sesame Street children's television program in the late 1960s, has a powerful message!  Sing out!

Singing can be so vitalizing, whether or not you think you sing well.  Go ahead and learn a number of songs and develop a repertoire of different kinds of songs that you can sing. When you know songs you can sing, you then have "something to do in the meanwhile"--in the shower, while driving, while waiting.

You might even make up little melody. You don't have to be a professional to find a little melody and play with it. Even Winnie-the-Pooh, a "bear of very little brain," was known to make up his own little tunes, such as, "The more it snows (tiddley pom) the more it blows..."

I call singing a form of psycho-physical "internal cardiac massage." The vibrations, the breathing, the variations of notes, and at a deeper level, the actual harmonic progressions, all work on the subtle bodily energies to lift the spirit and align the soul. It is especially helpful to have a repertoire of uplifting songs, then, songs with a simple but positive message. It helps to have simple and sing-able songs. Some examples may be found by linking to another webpage on this site, "singin4funsheets:"

There's a place for sad songs and work songs, too, because sometimes, in singin' the blues, one unites with the rest of humanity. Life is indeed a struggle at times, and there is grief, and patient suffering, the need to relinquish old roles, and the pain of transition. In singing songs about sad stuff we acknowledge our own roots in the human condition.

Singing to your children or grandchildren is a way of almost giving them a physical massage. Music is a meaningful expression of love, of sharing, of play, and it bonds and endears you to those you sing to. It roots your presence in their consciousness and memory, and gives them gifts of goodies to carry into the future. "A song my gran'pa sang to me still enriches my soul."

Singing with others builds a sense of community. I believe in just gathering people together, using song-sheets so that folks don't have to worry about whether they remember the words, and maybe having someone to accompany or some strong singers as leaders.

But I've found that many people are shy, they think they "don't sing well enough. I need to remind them, "You're not performing for an audience, you're just lifting your hearts in alignment with others, making something beautiful." I've been hosting song fests for many years, making song books, or encouraging people to buy songbooks like "Rise Up Singing," which has over a thousand songs that are singable and relatively well known.

If you learn just one song a month, that means you'll have twelve songs in your repertoire in a year, and a hundred and twenty songs to sing in ten years!  I'll share some of my favorite songs, (including the song, "My Favorite Things"), and I'd be open to your emailing me and telling me about a song. If I don't have it in my repertoire, maybe you could send me a cassette and the words, and in turn, I'll send you one.

Some categories that are especially rich are kids' songs, novelty songs, songs from Broadway musical shows, folk songs, selected songs related to holidays, general inspirational stuff (not religious), some simple chants and brief spiritual melodies, a few religious songs, etc. One category I'm intrigued with: I find that since the mid 1970s, the number of actually sing-able, not-too-hard-to-learn, able to be sung without accompaniment- songs have become rare. Still I am open to the occasional breakthrough, and expect that sometimes a song such as "The Rose" will come to someone's attention. I'd like to hear about the occasional singable new song.

Finally, there's the category of improvisational melody, making up wordless songs as you walk or drive or soak in the bathtub. Jazz musicians do this, and the point here is to empower you to experiment with your own voice, to play with melody and rhythm. (Drumming is also good, even if it's just you drumming on your own tummy!) There is no reason that mature adults must forego all the richness of imaginative improvisation that we enjoyed as children. Such activities are not intrinsically part of childhood, it's just that for a time our "civilized" tradition has put away such things. While it is indeed good to go beyond the childish activities of egocentricity, demand for immediate gratification, inability to think of longer-term goals, selfishness, unmodulated emotion, etc.,

I hope this has intrigued you and that you'll begin to experiment with singing.

Further Thoughts

Why do people lose that sense of empowerment to sing the songs they enjoy? I think it tends to happen especially during the years of around 9 - 14 years old. There's a vulnerability to being teased for being less than perfect, for missing a note, or having one's voice crack. We need to help people protect their kids from disempowering themselves, sacrificing their right to enjoy themselves so that their less-than-perfect skill level in this role won't be experienced as a weakness. (See the chapters on the inhibitions of play in our culture in my book, The Art of Play, as well as pages 87-89 about playing with singing and making music.).

Other Reflections

Robert Fulghum, an author whose essays became popular in the 1980s, starting with the best-selling book, All You Ever Needed to Know You Learned in Kindergarten, wrote a couple more books, one of which was titled Uh-Oh. He spoke to the subject of re-owning the right to sing in two parts of this book:

   Pages 105-8:
 A couple of mornings ago, the lady who lives in the houseboat across the way from me was really getting down with Aretha Franklin as the stereo pounded out "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." While washing dishes, the lady was singing along and doing a few good dance moves around her kitchen as Aretha shouted out her gospel-style rock and roll. The lady does not know I was watching her. Nor does she know I have often watched her as she bops around her kitchen singing and dancing. Though I'd like to tell her how much I appreciate her spirit-lifting performance, I'm afraid if I say anything, it will make her too self-conscious and I will have spoiled a good time for both of us.

 Besides, she can't really sing. That's what she says. When we were organizing a neighborhood Christmas choir a couple of years ago, I invited her to join us, and she said she had a terrible voice and couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. "I can't sing–never could." How can this be? I have watched and heard her sing. I know better. In fact, most people I know claim they can't sing. Why is this? What's going on here?

 Imagine how it would seem if our educational system evaluated students around sixth grade and if you did not have clear potential for playing tennis at a Wimbledon championship level, the school and the parents would say you are not now and never will be a tennis player, and that would be the end of tennis for you.  No way! We think of sports as a lifetime activity essential to good health. We think that it's important that people play tennis or golf or basketball or hockey or at least run or walk at whatever level they can–for their own good–as long as they can. We don't eliminate organized sports around sixth grade for all except those who seem to have talent and great potential for excelling to the point where they can make a professional career of the activity. That would really be absurd.

 Yet when it comes to singing, that's exactly what we do. From sixth grade through high school, and the rest of your life, if you haven't been labeled as having "talent" or a "good voice" or if you aren't stubborn about it, you will not sing in the choir. And you will grow up at best being a secret singer, as embarrassed to be caught doing it in public as picking your nose.

 If you want to clear a roomful of guests at a party, simply announce that "we are all going to gather around the piano and sing songs." Good night. People will make self-deprecating statements about their vocal inadequacies and head for the kitchen, bathroom, or just go on home.

 Same is true on a camping trip. "Let's all sit around the campfire and sing" sends most people into their tents in a hurry. Unless they are old people. Whe owere around before radio or TV or stereos. And don't know any better. But there are fewer of them every day.

 As a high school teacher, I was struck not only by how few students thought of themselves as capable of singing, but how popular lip-synching to recorded music was. If there was any so-called singing at a talent show, it was most likely this silent semi-ventri-loquism. Accompanied by air guitar. Mimic music. Not the real thing. On hiking trips with adolescents, campfire singing consisted of parodied bits and pieces of songs from the radio and MTV. Without the record, the music died They didn't even know any hymns from church. They didn't go to church.

 Lest this seem like a things-ain't what-they-used-to-be diatribe from someone with old-geezer tendencies, I insist that singing is as basic to being human as walking upright on two legs. And that if the professionals have taken it away for themselves, then it's time the amateurs took it back.

 We don't even sing the national anthem anymore. That's left to some soloist out of the world of professional singers to do for us. It's a performance. One we don not join because we ain't got what it takes to sing.

 As a nation, we can sing "Happy Birthday," "Jingle Bells," "America the Beautiful," "Three blind Mice," and a few other nursery rhymes, and once a year stumble through something we can't even spell, much less sing well–"Old Hang Sign" is what it sounds like. And that's about it....

Here's another selection, from Robert Fulgum's "Uh-Oh," Page 226-227:

Ask a kindergarten class, "How many of you can draw?" and all hands shoot up. Yes, of course we can draw–all of us. What can you draw? Anything! How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle? Sure! How big you want it?

 How many of you can sing? All hands. Of course we sing! What can you sing? Anything! What if you don't know the words? No problem, we make them up. Let's sing! Now? Why not!

 How many of you dance? Unanimous again. What kind of music do you like to dance to? Any kind! Let's dance! Now? Sure, why not?

 Do you like to act in plays? Yes!  Do you play musical instruments? Yes! Do you write poetry? Yes! Can you read and write and count? Yes! We're learning that stuff now.

 Their answer is Yes! Over and over again, Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.

 Try those same questions on a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play an instrument. Not infrequently, those who do raise their hands will want to qualify their response with their limitations: "I only play piano, I only draw horses, I only dance to rock and roll, I only sing in the shower."

 When asked why the limitations, college students answer they do not have talent, are not majoring in the subject or have not done any of those things since about third grade, or worse, that they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act. You can imagine the response to the same questions asked of an older audience. The answer: No, none of the above.

 What went wrong between kindergarten and college?

 What happened to YES! Of course I can?

What happened? In answer to Fulghum's question–even if it seems rhetorical–are some thoughts I have:

For one thing, the mass media made it complex rather than simple. In the continuing process of escalation of effects, just as the action films and horror movies get ever more dramatic, realistic, and emotionally shocking, so too has music moved to more and more elaborate productions, more complex musical scores, and the like. It's harder and harder to find words that are simple enough to remember, and melodies that are repeated and catchy!

 (A similar problem has happened with dancing, which used to have steps, and the music was more varied–waltz, Latin, fast swing, slow foxtrot, etc.-- but most dances more recently have a relatively homogeneous rhythm, with mild variations toward salsa or pace–but there seems to be little role for real movements with steps. This may also be due to the increase in crowdedness on dance floors, the latter becoming smaller because of the cost of space, and the gradual reduction of demand for more room to spin and dip.)

 A further discussion about how people tend to become inhibited and how they can free themselves of these artificial inhibitions may be found in my book, The Art of Play: Helping Adults Reclaim Imagination and Spontaneity.

Song Fests

For over thirty years my wife Allee and I have hosted or co-hosted song fests. We've found that people will be more open to singing if (1) the songs sung are relatively familiar; (2) there are song sheets or song books so that they don't have to worry about remembering the words; and (3) if there are either a number of loud strong singers or some piano or guitar or other accompaniment to help out those who are less sure of the melody. In addition, the norm must shift from the unspoken "we've got to sing this song ‘right'" to "Let's just sing for the fun of it."

What we're aiming to capture is the spirit of sitting around the campfire, when we were younger, or standing around a piano at the holidays singing Holiday songs. Group singing generates a great feeling of community and doing-something-together, combined with an energizing of the body-soul.

On Your Own

Try learning and memorizing one song a month, a simple oldie, preferably one that is relatively uplifting. (I'll be posting one every month on my website, and in turn, welcoming your sending me one of your favorites via email).  In ten years you'll have one hundred and twenty songs in your repertoire, enough to get through car trips, medical procedures, showers, and other situations where you might as well add a little joy.

Simple Chants

One song form that has become more popular in certain quarters is that of the very simple melody and word form called a chant. This has only a few stanzas that repeat, often with a slight variation or alternative stanza. It's just enough to give the feeling of singing a little song, just enough aesthetic texture to be satisfying musically. Often these simple songs may be thought-provoking, uplifting, even prayer-ful.

Kids' Songs

One of the most bonding and powerful things you can do with your kids, "quality time" stuff, is singing together. Get ‘em hooked at bedtime between the ages of two and six, and they'll stay hooked. It not only generates a rich repertoire of melodies in their minds, sensitizing them to the sheer enjoyment of music, but it also generates a sense that parents and grandparents are folks with whom one can experience great fun, deep fun– and discipline is much less a problem when you want to please the people with whom you share so much delight. So learn some kids' songs, too, funny songs, simple songs, age-appropriate. Songs for the little ones that you can also do with your hands or whole bodies are especially nice for teaching co-ordination.

Also, please consider two verses from the 1950s Walt Disney movie, Mary Poppins, where Julie Andrews (as Mary Poppins) sings the song, "A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down."
    (Beginning the song:)

 In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.
 You find the fun, and snap! The job's a game!
 And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake–
 A lark! A spree! It's very plain to see.... that...

(Chorus:) A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,
 The medicine go down, the medicine go down.
 Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down
 In the most delightful way.

 The robin feathering his nest has very little time to rest
 While gathering his bits of twine and twig.
 Although intent on his pursuit, he has a merry tune to toot,
 He knows a song will move the job along!  For... (chorus)

To recap what I quoted at the beginning, there are the interesting words to a song popularized in the early 1970s, titled, "Sing!"  Think of the wisdom here:
Sing. sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong...
Sing the love there could be. Sing for you and for me.
Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple, to last your whole life long.
Don't matter if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear,
Just sing!  Sing a song!
For responses, email me at  adam@blatner.com

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