Songs to pass the time. Songs of celebration. Songs of nostalgia. Songs that mark the seasons. Songs of work. Travelling songs. Songs that tell a story. Songs of hope.
I’m thinking of that moment in Wayne’s World where Wayne, pulling out a cassette* from his shirt pocket, says ‘I’m going to propose a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentlemen.’ And then what follows is a joyous scene of shared humanity. Losing themselves in the happiness of this time spent together. Singing with other people binds us together.
A few years ago the dance group that I perform in was booked to entertain an outdoor crowd in Liverpool. The rain hadn’t let up all afternoon and the festival goers were cowering under any shelter they could find. We had no one to entertain until we put on Singing in the Rain. The effect was as if the sun had come out: people emerged from their shelters and started singing along, ignoring the downpour and sharing in a joyous moment.
What a glorious feeling – I’m happy again.Singing in the Rain – Johnny Ray
While screens have the effect of connecting us to anywhere, they can disconnect us from the place we are actually in. Songs can bring us back into this shared space. Songs say we share something. The right songs help a group of people to put words to a shared feeling.
One of the highlights of my parenting week was Jeremy’s Music, a parent and child singing group in Finsbury Park London that seemed only loosely aimed at children, and was really a moment for the grownups to get together and sing. Once we had worked through the obligatory canon of songs for toddlers Jeremy would switch to rock repertoire for the adults. And from these sleep-deprived parents a latent energy seemed to flow. Yes we are tired, but we are all tired, and we are all singing, and it feels great. What a glorious feeling.
How do you sing more songs with people?
There are so many songs. How do you know where to start? As with many things, the unlimited is the enemy of the specific. Learn a few songs and sing them often. I keep a list in my wallet in case I get stumped.
You don’t need to be able to sing. You don’t need to be able to play an instrument. Just start and other people will help you out.
My top tip. Learn the second and third versus to a few songs. In my experience, most people can’t remember the second and third verses of songs. But given a little prompting the words come flooding back and you’ll be waving your heads around with glee like Wayne and Garth.
*As an analogue skills aside, a feature of this scene that I like is that Wayne has chosen a tape with a song on it. This isn’t the ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ era issued in by the iPod, it’s at most twenty songs. It isn’t hedging your bets; it’s being specific.
What is the Analogue Skills project?
The Analogue Skills Project is my attempt to gather together and keep safe less digital ways of doing things in case we need them again. My aim is to discover/redicover ways of being, feeling and acting that might serve us better.
Read more about the project here and check out my latest posts:
Another way to share lyrics is to write them on bed sheets. For my 29th birthday party I had the privilege of booking the late John Barnes, then in his 80s and still performing the songs and routines he had learnt as a Butlins Red Coat in the 1950s. To facilitate his singalongs, he asked volunteers to hold up bed sheets with the lyrics painted on them. He led from the front while playing the banjo.