At the most recent NATS conference there was a featured concert led by Met Opera star Renée Fleming. She often ends concerts with a sing-a-long number, and at this concert she led the audience of singing teachers in “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Then she spoke to the crowd about the most recent shooting incident in our nation, and how perhaps we needed to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” together. It was very moving. After the concert I immediately took to Facebook, declaring, “People who sing together don’t shoot each other.”
We know how important singing can be in the lives of those we teach. Whether they are aspiring performers, established professionals, or just enthusiastic amateurs, all of our students and choir members find challenges, opportunities for fulfillment, and moments of great joy in the act of singing.
Our culture has become less and less vocal: texting and e-mail are many individuals’ standard mode of communication. Even in traditional musical settings, people are less participatory as singers; there seems to be a division between those who perform and those who act as spectators to the performance. We Americans need to sing together more.
There are health, social, and spiritual benefits to singing. For example, Stephen Clift in the U.K. has been studying the use of singing classes to help COPD patients increase their lung function. Betty Bailey and Jane Davidson studied a choir in Montreal made up of homeless men. The men regarded the choir as the most meaningful thing in their lives. Closer to home, my friend Kittie Verdolini is organizing a choir in Pittsburgh comprised of prison inmates and police officers, all led by the music director of one of Pittsburgh’s largest African American churches. You may know of examples in your towns where singing is used to raise well-being and a sense of community in otherwise challenged populations. On a social level, who can forget the uniting power that singing had for U.S. civil rights advocates in the 1960’s, who sang spirituals as they marched for social change in the streets? And the healing power of communal singing as a spiritual force was clearly evident as President Obama led the singing of those gathered after the shootings at Emmanuel Church in Charleston. We sing to heal ourselves, to heal each other, and to teach our children how to pull together in times of great trouble.
In Wales, Ireland, and Iceland, people sing in choruses, in pubs, in churches, as they work, at soccer matches, you name it. My Kenyan and Nigerian friends tell me in Africa, the notion of “I don’t sing” or “I can’t sing” is completely foreign. Everyone can and everyone does sing. Our children sing songs to themselves as they play, but once they become adults, many of them stop singing – or worse, they have been told they can’t sing. Why can’t singing regain its prominence in our culture, and be a factor in creating healthier, more socially connected, more understanding, and hopefully less violent communities?
Below is a plan to get people all over the Americas singing more. The plan would commence in the U.S with the assistance of organizations such as NATS, MENC, ACDA, NYSTA, AGO, NPM, VASTA, Opera America, and Chorus America, but through sister organizations in other countries we could share the model throughout the Western Hemisphere. Calling upon individual efforts by directors like you, student and professional solo vocal performers, church leaders, and popular singers in jazz, folk, gospel, and rock, I propose we restructure traditional concert models to include inviting those attending performances to sing with those performing. At concerts, flash mobs, World Voice Day events, as well as informal sing-a-longs at sporting events, community celebrations, and religious gatherings, consider including audience participation numbers as a planned portion of the performance.
As vocal music educators, we have a vested interest in fostering more singing in society. Our very livelihood depends on having engaged audiences and an influx of new singers to our studios, choirs, and classrooms. And it’s the right thing to do.
So how do we start? Here are some suggestions to get you started, and you may have several ideas of your own. That’s wonderful. Share them with me at , as I will be developing a website and a set of resource materials to help others. You can also visit our Facebook group Singing for a New World.
America needs to sing more. Singing together elevates us to that bessre Welt we all want for ourselves, for those we love, and for those we teach. Who is better positioned to lead this effort than us?
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Start simple: have your choirs and the solo performers you teach program participatory songs at the ends of concerts. Invite the audience to sing along. Print the words in the program.
Begin community meetings you are involved in with a song – like the Rotary Clubs typically do.
Start a Beer Choir in your favorite pub
Promote vocal music in schools in your community
Take your choirs to retirement centers, hospitals, nursing homes, or veteran’s groups. Share the love of music with our most “experienced” listeners.
Take your choirs to public places flash mob style, and spontaneously start songs at the same time all over a campus or town.
When your choir is going to a restaurant together, ask the host or hostess if you can help out with any birthday singing, and get the whole restaurant to join in.
MORE LONG-TERM AND BROADER IDEAS:
Encourage sing-a-longs of popular songs of various genres at ballgames, other sporting events
Singing at community celebrations, like July 4 picnics
Leverage social media, webcasts to spread the word
Engage popular artists to do sing-a-longs at concerts – classical, country, folk, popular
Opera companies and theaters could have concerts which would include singing along on popular choruses, or use curtain calls to invite audience members to sing (“Cast Karaoke”)
John Nix () is Associate Professor of Voice and Vocal Pedagogy at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the founding director of the UTSA Vocal Arts Laboratory.
Wonderful stuff, thanks for the thoughtful words. Our chorus always pulls the audience in for multiple sing-alongs as part of Christmas programs but the addition of the same for a spring show sounds like a great idea.
Further on the flash mob (which is entirely too much fun), we did a trade with a local grocer. They provided some items for a fundraising dinner and we took over the vegetable section singing in Swahili. Everybody wins and the shoppers had a blast.
Peace and aloha