Some of my earliest memories involve music. When I was a small child, my mom would sing a made-up song to my sister as she breastfed. “Mommy loves her Sarah, Daddy does, too, they love Sarah, yes they do.” She would sing until she had exhausted the names of every uncle, aunt, cousin and family friend. And my sister would sleep. A few months ago, I found myself singing it to my new nephew to soothe him on a sunny, blue-skied day on the shore of Lake Champlain.
Family sing-alongs were a regular occurrence. Although I am not a big John Denver fan today, I cannot help but sing with Country Roads, and it never fails to make me mist up nostalgically for those evenings at the piano with my family. I cannot resist a rousing rendition of the 4th verse of Amazing Grace. I hear my father singing “When we’ve been there, 10,000 years…” and I have a renewed faith.
I sing all the time: to my husband, to the dog, to the mirror. I have sung in sacred places with sacred purposes, and places as secular as the steps of a subway station. I recently returned to my high school to sing with the chorus in an alumni event. While the Vivaldi Gloria doesn’t often make its way to the “most played” list on my iPod, singing it again with this group was energizing, and made me wonder why I don’t just sing it more often.
But there is nothing like crowd-singing at a concert, something I realized with great clarity at a recent Indigo Girls concert in Central Park. The life-affirming power of a group of people singing along to the lyrics of their favorite band is unmatched. For the fleeting moment we came together in the same place, we were united by notes and words, and, for a brief and shining interlude shared one voice. There was no race, no age, no gender, just music. Troubles, both personal and shared, were sung away, and the harmony that sometimes seems so impossible in our world truly existed.
This morning, driving to work, singing along to those same Indigo Girls songs, I had a thought. If I ever win the lottery, I will hire a driver to take me to work. (You would, too, if you lived in Long Island.) But this driver would have to possess one non-negotiable: the ability to carry a tune, so I could sing harmony on the way to work.
So, this I believe: that music truly matters when it’s shared. What seems not to be my style on an ordinary day becomes essential when paired with the right people. Lyrics that are just words become an anthem when sung with others in the right place.
And besides, it’s hard to sing harmony alone.