Singing is courageous. Singing is unifying. Singing, and singing together with a group, is a form of uniquely human expression that creates powerful experiences and memories for all involved.
An important article by The Atlantic stressed the disappearance of singing as a communal event. As a choral director, I have witnessed this decline firsthand. My career is conducting communal singing. What I notice, is that outside of organized programs like community choirs, communal singing is generally unpopular. We have a bad habit of neglecting the things that brings us happiness in exchange for accepting society standards.
Communities used to come together by singing together. Now, it seems that people are afraid that singing in public will set them apart. Why don’t people enjoy singing together? Well, it probably isn’t that we don’t enjoy it; but we are increasingly embarrassed. People are insecure about their singing voice and being pressured to join in a group activity makes us feel generally awkward. The person who dares raise their voice often risks becoming the outsider.
When do communities turn to song to bring unity? Many argue that folk identities are endangered. Music that gets passed down through oral tradition is making way for Top 40 hits, Youtube, and Spotify. But the spirit still thrives. Communal struggle is still voiced best in song – think of the influence the #BlackLivesMatter movement had on hip hop and R&B. We sing at protests, we sing at ball games. The environment is different but the music shared at these events is linked through history to define our relationships with each other and with song.
Will Schmid is the former leader of the music educators’ association. He points out, “There is a difference in public-spiritedness between singing Billy Joel in a lounge versus Stephen Foster at a picnic,” but he emphasizes that any singing is good singing.
Children are raised with music and our folk songs become memories that we treasure through adulthood. As The Atlantic points out, our store of true folk songs evaporated as civic engagement declined. We can work on improving that status by listening to our intention and embracing public song. As Cat Stevens said- if you want to sing out, sing out!