Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Value of Spontaneously Singing Together

I ran across an article in The Atlantic, recently that began in me some real contemplation on its subject: communal singing.

Singing at ballgame If you've ever attended a baseball game, you know the tradition of singing a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during 7th inning stretch is one which even those who are reluctant-at-first will join in, especially for the ending crescendo of; "…one, two, three strikes you're out at the old ball—game!" (Photo credit:

Reminiscing about the way Americans used to join in song at civic events, and the rarity of that in society today, writer Karen Loew notes some of the reasons that may be responsible for this lack of crowd-song.

"The reasons why are legion," Loew writes. "We are insecure about our voices. We don't know the words. We resent being forced into an activity together. We feel uncool. And since we're out of practice as a society, the person who dares to begin a song risks having no one join her.

"This is a loss… In these divided times as much as ever, we need to do some singing and feeling together, united as both citizens and amateurs."

Perhaps talent shows such as American Idol have done more harm than good in this arena, as we are now so quick to judge the vocal quality of a singer, instead of maybe throwing caution to the wind and joining in if appropriate.

karaoke I admire certain aspects of the karaoke scene for this reason. There's kind of an unspoken rule in karaoke that you support the (usually very) amateur singer no-matter-what. Even if all you're clapping for is the "shear guts" it took for the person to get up and shakily hold onto the mic while attempting to stay in some discernible key. It's nice that people are kind for the most part. (Photo credit:

While my thoughts are swiftly drawn to congregational worship services as good examples of communal singing that still exists; I think the aforementioned insecurity—and that quick-to-judge attitude—can, unfortunately, also be found in the Church.

Most churches either provide the lyrics to worship songs and choruses on an overhead projector, or from a hymnal, so it's not that we don't know the words… So, why aren't more sanctuaries filled to overflowing with the voices of a congregation in song—instead of just the worship team?

Let's not be so timid (or judgmental)!

Singing Together Can Be Therapeutic
Karen Loew brought up another interesting point when she noted that after so many of the sad events that touch communities there are candlelight vigils; however, at most of them there is no offering of communal melodies to help ease emotions.

"In news reports, we see photos of hugs and tears and shocked faces, and then candlelight vigils. These events, which apparently will continue, seem even sadder without the relief of song," writes Karen.

I think it's a valid argument; times like that warrant joining together in some healing chorus. It doesn't even need to be a Church song—God can touch hearts just as easily through a stanza of "You've Got a Friend," or "Lean On Me."

The Atlantic article concluded with a statement by Dr. Will Schmid—former leader of the music educators' association, who helped folk artist Pete Seeger create a list of singable folk songs. Schmid, citing the way a crowd will belt out a song together at a baseball game, said, "No one there is worried about whether they're good enough.

"That's a wonderful feeling—that's what I think we need to restore. That sense that: I'm good enough. I'm a happy amateur singer. I'm just going to let it out."

I agree! Maybe we all need to relearn a few of those old folk songs and bring into the spontaneous public arena some of our easy choruses from Church, and dare to sing them out.

Perhaps Christians especially—sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit—could lead a gathering into song at a moment when all those present could really benefit from lifting their voice.