Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why We Sing...

I recently joined a vocalist discussion board that my friend Benjamin Asher recommended. While many of its members are focused exclusively on the academic and provable side of voice production and science, I've met others with some really wonderful, out-of-the-box ideas.

Jonathan Doyel had one such idea, and decided to start a discussion group dedicated to exploring it further. Simply called "WHY?", the group aims to figure out why we sing. Not why we should, now how we should, not what we hope to achieve, but why we do.

This may seem like a simple question. But Jonathan made me realize that while I've certainly thought a lot about singing over the years, I haven't spent nearly as much time thinking about why I sing.

My initial gut reaction to the question was that singing for some of us is like breathing. It's like oxygen. These thoughts came to me over His Eye Is On The Sparrow playing in my head: "I sing because I'm happy... I sing because I'm free."

But so often this WHY? gets covered over… by fear, perfectionism and judgment. By the need to make simple things complicated in order to feel smarter, better and more important. Or by simply 'maturing' and becoming an 'adult'. We leave the wonder behind in our pursuit of knowledge, confidence, academia, success, power, fame, attention… and forget the joy of the experience, as well as the wisdom of that joy.

A child doesn't need to understand the composites of sand to play on the beach. Nor does she need to know the molecular structure of water to splash around in the waves or to lose herself in tasting a raindrop that's landed on her tongue.

Why do I sing? I sing to open up. I sing to share. I sing to discover who I am. I sing to discover who I want to be. I sing to transcend my body. I sing to expand out the boundaries of my emotions... to feel more, be more, taste more. To grow. To fly. I sing to tell the story of what I've learned with others, and to ask others to share their stories with me.

I sing to feel. I sing to love.

Understanding the science and psychology of singing is fascinating. But in the stillness, at the end of the day, wherever and whenever my voice and I share a moment, it's the joy, rather than the knowledge, that leads me on. It's the mystery of this wild gift inside of me- the WHY?- that brings tears to my eyes.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

A beatiful answer to the question, Jennifer. Your line about become and adult reminded me of an experience I had about a year ago. I was preparing for NATSAA, feeling the dryness of some of my rep. I sang it for some children. It was freeing. I decided that children can be some of the best people to sing for since they don't have that predetermined expectation that we learn. I was able to just tell them what I thought and felt and didn't care if it was accepted or not. And guess what - it was the best appreciation of Ives' music I've ever witnessed.

April 7, 2009 at 8:30 AM  
Anonymous John Cimino said...

Thank you, Jennifer. Completely inspiring! I will sing today mindful of my joy. Thought you would enjoy these poems. (John)
There was a man with tongue of wood
Stephen Crane

There was a man with tongue of wood
Who essayed to sing,
And in truth it was lamentable.
But there was one who heard
The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood
And knew what the man
Wished to sing,
And with that the singer was content.

We Are Born Singing
Mark Nepo

Song is not a luxury,
but a necessary way of being in the world.

Somehow we have been fooled into thinking that song is entertainment,
something we can do without, like dessert. But to give voice to what
lives inside is what keeps all things possible. In truth, the minute we
arrive we are born singing, though this is often mistaken for crying.
Yet without this deep reflex, the lungs won't work and the lifelong
exchange between inner and outer can't begin.

Such a simple secret: by letting things out, we also let things in. So,
if you're cut off, in pain, estranged, numb - sing, give voice to
anything. It needn't sound pretty. Simply, bravely, open despite the
difficulty, and let what is in out, and what is out in. Sing and your
life will continue.

April 7, 2009 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Hamady said...

How wonderful... thanks to you both for the comments, experiences and poems.

April 7, 2009 at 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Leslie Smith said...

jennifer, this one really made me think about my daughter. she is 2 and of course she loves to sing. I think singing songs together is a way to connect with each other, a way to begin a conversation, a way to praise and honor God and a way to contribute to the musical soundtrack of our lives. I love to listen to her explore melodies and play with words and movement. watching her sing - putting on the dramatic faces, shaking her shoulders or her hands to the song is part mimicry and part just feeling the movement that she is creating for herself. I think we sing because we are born with song as way to cope, to celebrate, to honor and to mourn. it's in us already. we just have to let it out!

April 7, 2009 at 3:53 PM  

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