Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The benefits of singing together

One of the challenges in talking about noncommercial creativity is that people don’t often notice its value, both for individuals and for society. Shared Song, Communal Memory is a recent New York Times story about the merits of singalongs: shared performances not by professionals or experts, but people who like singing to each other. They don’t have to write the songs or even be particularly good singers to benefit from singalongs; the value is in the community.

If there is a natural opposite to gold-plated pop irony and faceless file sharing — music as the American majority knows it in 2008 — this is it. These meetings are earnest, participant directed and person to person: a slow-going, folkish appreciation of American vernacular culture.

Much of this impulse descends from Pete Seeger, who has championed the cause of group-singing for more than 60 years. “No one can prove a damn thing,” Mr. Seeger said in a recent interview, “but I think that singing together gives people some kind of a holy feeling. And it can happen whether they’re atheists, or whoever. You feel like, ‘Gee, we’re all together.’”

…. “A lot of the experience of music in our culture is listening to someone else sing,” [Peter Blood, a Quaker, political organizer, teacher and folk musician] said. “What I find exciting about community sings is that people feel they own the music.”

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