Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sing a Song

Sing! Sing a Song! Sing out Loud! Sing out strong!
Sing, of good things, not bad! Sing of happy not sad!

 Sesame Street

In my world, most things are best said musically.

That is NOT to imply that I can play any instrument with skill, nor can I sing alone unless I am trying to be funny. But my brain thinks in music.

I grew up in a house permeated with all things music, my dad was a professional musician for a while, and his brass quintet would practice in our little living room. I have come to realize that in church and when singing along with the radio I sort of always sing the French horn part, even if the song doesn’t HAVE a French horn part. I know what it should sound like.

We all knew that my grandmother had played Rachmaninoff on the piano when she was 15. I know I was a disappointment to my grandfather in my horrible stage fright and lack of skill on the piano, although I found out much later that my grandmother also did not like to play in front of people.

So I guess my brain just processes life musically. I know this can be annoying for anyone talking to me, as almost ANY comment makes me think of a song lyric. It’s like I have a weird synapse that fires in conversation. But words trigger lyrics, which often trigger Random Outbursts of Song.

I reached an amazing milestone in my marriage when one of my kids said something about going up to their room or something and my spouse said “up up up up, to the Heavyside Layer”. I think even he was appalled that Cats popped into his head. My work in this arena is apparently done.

While my daughter was on treatment we made up Transfusin’s Hard to Do and the Low Low ANC Blues. We also sang her chemo to the tune of YMCA. I once made up a cheerful song called “God Really Hates Me”, which strangely did NOT catch on in my house. But generally, music can take care of ANYTHING.

So when I walked into school this morning and realized that the dress rehearsal for the choir tour was running long (I had been warned that it might run into my class time), I figured I’d sit and listen to the kids sing, instead of going to the office to copy papers and such. There are some songs in the repertoire that WE sang when I was in this choir years ago, so I figured it might be nice to listen. And I was tired and feeling kind of down (understatement!)…

Music helps me. Yesterday was an Evanescence on the treadmill playlist kind of day—ie a bad day. Last week I listened to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel and old recordings of Freedom Songs while I worked through a class unit on the Civil Rights Movement. Owl City makes me happy when the sun is shining. I listen to Eminem, or Satie, or Ladysmith Black Mambazo, or Mozart Horn Concertos, or Godspell, or the Indigo Girls, or the B-52s. Music connects to some deep part of me in a way I find difficult to explain. I think that’s why I like so many different kinds of music. It all speaks to me, to my heart.

I like choral music. There is a power in an awful lot of voices singing together. I do, however, have an incredibly low Velveeta Threshold. That is to say, there’s an awful lot of cheesy choir music out there. I’ve helped search for stuff for our school’s choir before, the extra cheese floating around is enough to clog an audience’s collective arteries.

There’s a fine line between profound and Velveeta. Native American singing “Colors of the Wind”? Profound. 16 year old on American Idol singing “Colors of the Wind”? Velveeta. Sometimes things just don’t work out of context. Some things REALLY don’t work out of context and sung by 100 teenagers.

I have learned, too, that not EVERYONE wants to share my cheese views. I have ruined at least one religious song for friends because it sounds like a show tune to me, and I can’t help but sing it like that, with dramatic gestures and all. It’s awful, I can’t help myself. ; )

Anyway, I was a little curious when the next student introduced the next song, a song from a cartoon movie. Uh-oh. Velveeta warning!

And then they started to sing. 100 teen voices…

Many nights we've prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood
(At this point, I could feel myself starting to crumble. Yeah, I have this t-shirt in an awful lot of colors).

Now we are not afraid
Although we know there's much to fear
We were moving mountains long
Before we knew we could.

There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

(desperate futile search for tissue in purse and pockets began).

In this time of fear
When prayers so often prove(s) in vain
Hope seems like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away

(wondering if choir – 100 kids facing me and 3 other teachers– will notice if I wipe my nose on my sleeve. Also wonder if my mascara is anywhere near my eyeballs anymore.)

Yet now I'm standing here
My heart's so full I can't explain
Seeking faith and speaking words
I never thought I'd say

There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

(just thinking of so many friends, and kids, and my own recent despair of things ever turning out well for anyone in my family).

They don't (always happen) when you ask
And it's easy to give in to your fears
But when you're blinded by your pain
Can't see your way straight throught the rain
(A small but )still resilient voice
Says (hope is very near)

There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles,you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

I actually had to leave the auditorium by the end of the song. Thank God 2nd period was nearly over!

My brain has kind of been hurting recently, and I have NOT been listening to random music except when running (Lent!), so this beautiful song, sung with such beauty and harmony, spoke to my soul in a way I have struggled to express recently.

I need to make sure my students know, when I see them tomorrow, that their audiences may hear this song in a way the kids don't quite understand. We all hope for miracles sometimes, right?

I have trouble believing. I’m not going to lie, I do find miracles slippery and elusive and hard to believe in, even as I try to keep hoping. I do believe we can always hope. And that is a song worth singing.


The original is the best version I could find ...


  1. I love this song...which somehow always manages to rise above Disneyesque smarmy... And seriously, reading this kept sending me back to lectures by C West, where he jumps from bono to kd lang to celine dion to katy perry..The songs connect us more deeply to life, even for less musical ones, i think.
    Which also makes me think, if you havent seen August Rush, you's really about the music that permeates life, that love song central to humanity that seeps in...
    Keep posting. This was really good.

  2. They don't (always happen) when you ask
    And it's easy to give in to your fears

    We all fall into this trap - understand your fear and want to make it better - know that you are loved and cared for from far away