There is this thing that’s like touching except you don’t touch*
A yellow sari; Indian spring colours in the middle of Norwegian wintertime. A woman with this soft, mellow voice, but a firm way of using it. After all, trying to teach teenagers about something they don’t really care about, is a without doubt a real challenge. Madhumita Ray gave a short introduction to Hindustani classical music, as well as the guru systems of Northern India. But more than anything she taught us about listening. Listening, even when you can’t really grasp what’s being handed down to you. The sound of the universe, she said, is everywhere. Humming in the auditorium were we were sitting, in all the music she was singing and hearing. It is right there, within the particular song about Krishna which we did sing, and in all the compositions by J. S. Bach, Mozart and the Beatles. No escaping it, anywhere.
Back in the day it just went without saying at all
Fast forward some three years. Uganda. A small party of Norwegians are asked to do their national anthem. They start out on what seems to be an okay pitch, but end up having to transpose the melody down during the first verse. The nerves take their toll for the rest of the song, leaving the performers in a rather giggly state at the end. When was the last time any of them were singing? Could they even recall that time at all?
All the world’s history gradually dying of shock
You know, my mother once said that everybody was singing a lot more when she was young. They were singing the songs of everyone. The ones that tried to end wars, spread love, tell jokes and pretty much anything else imaginable. These days we don’t sing, unless we’re too drunk to notice we’re singing, or in the shower pretending no one can hear us. And my guess is that Norwegians isn’t the only ones with this issue (but of I’m wrong; yays and hurrahs! Keep singing!).
There is this thing that’s like talking except you don’t talk
Did the western culture stop singing at one point? Even lullabies? Or did we only stop singing in public, un-polished and un-rehearsed? This basic function of the human voice, did we let it drown silently and just continued with our lives as if nothing happened? Or is it just me? Does anybody know?**
Why does it even matter? Singing, I mean. Why am I wasting my energy thinking about these (anachronic?) things. First of all, singing doesn’t harm anyone. When you get used to hearing your own voice you might even find it quite enjoyable. Even when your neighbour doesn’t (anyway, his or her opinion doesn’t count). And I am secretly afraid that we are losing something. Very. Important. When we’re not actively using ourselves as musical instruments. Not only are we missing out on a deeper understanding of music itself (the kind of understanding that only comes from practice, not watching/hearing about it), but also a lot of our cultural heritage.
Songs used to be a way of remembering both history and stories. A way of getting things done (through work songs, shanties, lullabies etc.), and probably lots of things I have never heard about.
Somehow this all boils down to the function of music. Where is it heading? Where are we all heading? Does it even matter?
The people attending the workshop with Madhumita Ray were different. This I know for sure. For some precious years of their lifetime they got to sing. We got to sing; basically humming all the time. Making vocal sounds influenced by everything from John Dowland to Opeth, and anything in between. We were the crazy students in the building, who’d chosen musical harmonies over physics. The “real world” became a parallel universe, where people obviously only sing in the shower or whenever they’re drunk.
*Everything written in pure italics paragraphs is quoted from Sing by the Dresden Dolls.
** It seems like a lot of cultures where only professionals get to sing/perform public, and that community singing, let alone raising one’s own voice is unheard of. Is that where we are heading?
This post is a part of the Zero to Hero WordPress blogging challenge; Third assignment: write the post that was on your mind when you decided to start a blog. Click on the image to join:)