Updated: Sep 15, 2021
When my daughters were little and my days were filled with their care, there were moments when the stresses and frustrations got the best of me; my patience was exhausted or I just needed some space. Where was one supposed to find more of what was in short supply? Although these struggles are normal for any parent - especially now - I found I could never think my way out of those moments.
What did help felt almost magical in its simplicity. When I was feeling overwhelmed, if I could sit down and just read a book to them, speaking in different voices to bring the characters to life, or just sing a song...something shifted. By the end of the book or the song, I was in a different place. The book or song didn’t even seem to matter; just the act of reading or singing always brought me back to myself.
I recalled all this recently with the loss of group singing. Our chorus group had just hosted a performance and workshop by Moira Smiley+VOCO - an incredible event - and the next week we were in lockdown. All the beautiful music planned, the sublime experience of singing with others...it all disappeared. The absence has felt like an echoing silence, affecting many, and the loss is difficult. When the things we love are suddenly no longer possible, what is left? Why do we sing, after all?
There are high feasts, and there is daily bread. The simple act of singing during this pandemic has been a lifeline for many. Singing at home, singing online, singing/crying in the shower. There seem to be a multitude of things to weep over and fight for, and small ordinary acts may not feel very important when there is the world to worry about. Nevertheless, I find there are songs that work like medicine, ones whose potent hope or gratitude lifts me out of the many difficult moments I think we’re all experiencing. Songs can carry us out of ourselves and create a new space we can step into. For me, what has been most helpful are songs to be sung, not performed; songs to hold close and be held by. In searching for these I have discovered song sharers around the world who also seem to know this truth: that singing is essential. Right now it is a daily bread.
My oldest daughter, the one who sings like she breathes, has joined me during our online singing sessions, plumping up our sound and adding harmony. I treasure this time of singing with her and the friends and family whose faces smile at us on Zoom. While none of this is our ideal, what we are sharing is ourselves and the magic of a simple song. It is what will carry us through.
"Once upon a time, wasn't singing a part of everyday life, as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives once more all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over again is a way to start. And when one person taps out a beat, while another leads into the melody, or when three person lean into a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world."