There’s a song in the air

People used to sing spontaneously.  I can still hear my mother singing us her wake-up call, and my neighbor’s voice raised in song as he washed dishes.  This was before the age of cassette tapes, CDs, i-pods and i-tunes, a time when three generations routinely shared a song repertory, and the smallest child and grandma could sing together.  Songs were a soft glue that maintained a common body of history, stories, and silly thoughts among families and within a community.  People sang at church, in the movie theatre, at family gatherings, parties, camp, in pizza parlors.  Lovers sang in harmony.  And they did so with minimal or no assistance from instruments or recordings.

Cover of "All Together Singing in The Kit...

Today, there are few songs that all Americans know, for we no longer have a common song repertory.  At your next social gathering, try to find one that everyone can sing, and without support from a recording.  Music surrounds us—in stores, elevators, TV, computers, radios—but it is rarely of our own making.  How have we Americans let singing disappear from our lives?  I suspect that singing is a pleasure many families would bring back, so here are some suggestions.

First, start singing, without benefit of playback device.  Sing lullabies and nursery rhymes instead of playing a CD.  Join a chorus.  Sing Christmas carols with the family.  If none of the children is a pianist or guitar player, invite someone from the community to accompany at the gathering.  Other family members may not join in immediately, and in the absence of a common repertory, it will take time to engage them (especially teenagers).  It is well worth the effort, however, and you will soon hear little voices joining your own.  Spouses can set the example by singing in harmony (a soul-satisfying experience if ever there was one).  Nerissa Nields has good suggestions in All Together Singing in the Kitchen.

Giving our children good songs nourishes them for life, for they are poetry, rich in potential to teach history, language, and life lessons.  The act of singing is healthful too, because we breathe, and feel safe.  A family should set priorities to show that these activities have value.  Support your children as they play an instrument, helping them learn the persistence and discipline that leads to mastery.

Take your children to concerts of classical music, jazz, Renaissance madrigals, Indian ragas, klezmer, Gilbert and Sullivan, bluegrass.  Take them to hear grand opera, reading the stories beforehand.  Introduce them to the unfamiliar, such Japanese taiko drumming, or a performance by a youth chorus visiting from Namibia.  Tour a church pipe organ.  Climb a bell tower and touch the bells.  With myriad traditions available, we have music for a lifetime.

Share your views with other parents, teachers, and school administrators.  Insist that the school support a solid music education for your children, one in which they make the music.  Music-making has enormous potential to bind us together.  We owe this enjoyment to ourselves and to our children.

Good songs are those that have survived over time.  The National Association for Music Education has developed a songbook that is a good start for any family: 

Get American Singing … Again!  You can order it from  There are 2 volumes ($3.95 each), and other items, such as workbooks and CDs.  If you get the CD, please use it to learn the songs, but then unplug the player and sing with your own voice.

Neon music sign

Neon music sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)







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3 thoughts on “There’s a song in the air

  1. Thanks for the interesting article – I agree wholeheartedly with you; singing as a communal activity (in fact, music as a communal activity) is almost lost. We are bombarded with music in our everyday lives – it’s almost inescapable – yet we as a society seem to have lost sight that music and singing is something we can all do and that nothing brings a group of people together like communal music-making.

    My father (now long deceased) lived in a small rural Scottish village. He used to tell us that when he was a child everybody – and I do mean everybody – either played an instrument or sang (this was the 1920s). Communal music making was the heart and soul of village life. And then he told us (with enormous sadness) how that changed. One day the radio came to his village.

    And suddenly people who had played for years were confronted with professional musicians playing music at a level that the local musicians just couldn’t compete with. Instead of being the best local fiddle player, or a solidly competent pianist, or a fine singer they were comparing themselves with virtuosi performers. And the locals lost heart, and gradually the communal music making just faded away. This was a tragedy.

    I think that is part of the problem – we our comparing ourselves with top professional musicians, and so we become ashamed of our more modest talents. Yet you don’t have to be a great instrumentalist or a great singer to derive enormous pleasure from music (Lord knows my own talents are minimal at best). Music is a joy, even when it’s not perfect. Music is NOT just for professionals: it’s something we can all do and derive pleasure from. Thanks for spreading the word!

    Also, thanks for the link back to my blog post – I appreciate it!

  2. My family had our first Sunday Sing-A-Long using songs from Get America Singing…Again! Thank you for recommending the songbook!

  3. Hi – I LOVE this article. Just what I’m all about. I’m writing a book for non-singers about learning how to sing. I would love to include the photo that you use on this page – Do you know how I might be able to find it and get permission to include it? Thanks so much – and also thanks for getting the word out that singing is for everybody!! Nancy

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