Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why do you sing?

I came across an interesting article on Canada’s CBC Radio 2 blog the other day. It was entitled Why do you sing? and attracted several comments from people outlining their own personal reasons why they sing.

Although I’ve posted here not long ago about why people join choirs and singing groups (There are plenty of good reasons to sing), I’ve never really looked at why myself and others like singing in the first place, in whatever form.

I’m going to outline a few reasons why people sing, and tell you about my love of harmony singing, but I’d love to hear about your own reasons. Do leave a comment and tell me why you love to sing.

expressing what we feel

One of the comments on the CBC blog was “To sing is to express being alive”. There are songs for every occasion: sad songs, happy songs, angry songs, love songs. Singing is a way of giving voice to a strong emotion and sharing it with the world. It can be a means of communicating our feelings to others, but also a way of giving ourselves comfort and solace in difficult times.

feeling good

Many people realise that singing can make you feel good. But I’ve also found the opposite: feeling good can make you sing! Often when I’m engaged in something physical and pleasurable like walking or cycling I suddenly notice that I’m singing. It is a natural expression of the way I’m feeling.

Sometimes the last thing I want to do is to sing. But because it’s my job, I turn up at the singing workshop and before I know it, I’m singing (because I have to). After just a few bars however, I notice my mood lifting considerably. Singing should be part of the national health service!

private vs. public

Lots of us sing in the shower, while we’re hoovering, as we’re changing the beds. We sing alone in the house or the car. Nobody can hear or see us and we truly let rip (and think of ourselves as the best singer in the world!). But put us in front of other people and we soon clam up.

As soon as other people are present, we think that we are being judged in some way on our performance. This often affects how we sing and can sometimes be a big obstacle to allowing others to hear our song. On the other hand, there are people who sing because others are listening. They are born to perform and need an ‘audience’ to hear them.

singing together

Personally, I don’t like singing on my own. The reason I sing is to enjoy the harmonies, so I need other people (or a radio or CD playing). I sing because I love the relationship between different notes being sung at the same time. I love the way that harmony singing creates something which is greater than the individuals involved. It makes a separate thing which can’t be done alone, which needs all the participants, and yet no one participant is controlling the final result.

This can be a bit of a problem for me because if nobody is around, I can’t sing with any great pleasure! I need to have people to sing with, and they also need to know the same songs as me in order to join in.

work, rest and play

There are also wider cultural and societal reasons why people sing. There are many rituals in life which involve singing: weddings, funerals, religious services. Some cultures involve singing in their healing practices. Often when large groups of people come together for a shared activity (football matches, outdoor concerts, feasts), singing arises.

There are many examples of songs associated with work activities (work songs). Not only do these songs relieve the boredom of the work (often repetitive in nature), but can help synchronise work actions (chopping, hammering, waulking, reaping, pounding, hauling), help lift the spirits, and create a sense of community (“we’re all in this together”).

deeper meanings

There is a more fundamental reason underlying why we sing. Steven Mithen in his book The Singing Neanderthals: the origins of music, language, mind and body suggests that song and dance came before language. Mithen posits that music-making is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, encoded into the human genome during the evolutionary history of our species.

why do you sing?

So there are some reasons why people like to sing. But why do you sing? Do let me know by leaving a comment.



Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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