Tough Times Call for a Song

Singing Together Helps Us Build a Stronger Sense of Community

[Thomas Moore, "Tough times call for a song" Charlotte Observer (03/11/03): 9A]

We need to sing more.

"What?" I hear you thinking. "Does this guy know the economy stinks and we’re about to go to war? What planet is he living on? How can singing possibly matter when the world is so tense?"

The state of the world is exactly why we need to be singing. We must not let fear dominate us. Throughout history, when times have been bad, people have sung to keep themselves going. We sing when there seems to be nothing to hang onto, to have some way to release all that’s inside of us. Singing is a way to build community.

As our nation debates whether war with Iraq is just, we need a road we can all travel to connect us again. No matter your position, singing provides a means for expressing that we’re all Americans. It can lead to dialogue. Dialogue can lead to sound decisions. Singing is a way to be powerful and share power.

I remember the story of how Stan Brookshire, then mayor of Charlotte, was invited to a 1968 rally honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s work. Most people didn’t think Mayor Brookshire would come. He did. Then he joined the singing! It was a more emphatic statement of support than anything he could have said.

For the spiritually inclined, singing is a way of calling on the Higher Power. If you aren’t free enough to say, "I’m going to raise my voice, too," then the rest of us have missed a lot. Maybe it’s your voice -- just one extra voice -- that will make the difference and bring forth the spiritual connection we need.

If you feel shy about singing, or think you have an awful voice, you’re not alone. We don’t sing as much as we used to in this country because of the television, radio and recording industries. We have become accustomed to passively watching performers, rather than making our own music, dances and visual art. Yes, we have many trained singers, but they’re trained to perform music, not to engage or invite the listener to sing along. As a classically trained singer and graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, I say this from experience.

The predominant culture of the United States tends to focus on the cognitive, with less emphasis on physical development. Singing is a physical and emotional activity. Think about it. How many times do you touch nonfamily members in the course of the day? How many times would you if you lived in Italy or Kenya? Our culture discourages even hugs for friends, let alone friendly pats on the back. I believe this lack of physicality traps and isolates us. Singing invites us to come closer to each other. It invites harmony.

During my early years in rural South Carolina, my parents and relatives often sang and moved their bodies with the music. We didn’t go to concerts; my parents didn’t have the money. The porch, living room, car or cotton field was our stage. We took the music with us. What I enjoyed most about music then was having everyone be part of the song. That’s still what I enjoy.

Some people protest they look ridiculous or undignified if they sing. Do we worry about other people’s opinions when we are reading excitedly? When kissing a loved one? Or eating our favorite foods? Any activity can feel ridiculous if you think about it too long. Creative people learn to hold their heads high while doing things that might seem ridiculous. I encourage you to sing in houses of worship, at home with your loved ones, in the car with your children. But don’t stop there. Sing and teach "America the Beautiful" and other patriotic songs. Open PTA or club meetings with inclusive songs that will welcome participants. Try singing at board meetings. Some say it’s unprofessional to sing at a business event. I contend that if you want people to work together, create an opportunity for them to be on the same level.

Singing changes the energy in a room. For a nonprofit board where I’m a member, I incorporated song and movement during a meeting last summer. From comments afterward, I learned that the event set a new tone for many board members. Since then, members participate more -- listening more attentively and offering more ideas -- because they trust each other. They loosened up and connected.

Our city and our nation need a stronger sense of community in these nerve-wracking days. Singing is one way to achieve it. I invite you to reclaim the beauty of your singing voice. And the next time I see you, I want to hear it. Let us join hands and sing.

Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.