Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sing, Sing a Song

Street Performers, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Birds sing, frogs sing, cicadas sing, mice sing, humans sing. Even if we think we are not musical, our hearts beat and our nervous systems hum. Each community and culture has a musical identity and we learn the nuances of our native rhythms, scales and tones at a very young age. Musical memories are long lasting and are often seated with emotional memories. Learning is enhanced when it is put to music and children learn the alphabet and numbers quickly to song.

Communities are increasingly diverse with a rising number of popular musical genres. My childhood home was filled with music. We all took music lessons and practiced our instruments in the living room. When records were played, everyone shared the experience. Dad listened to classical music on the radio every night after we went to bed and we went to sleep hearing the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin. Now, we are plugged into our individual iPods and seldom share music together. Once in a while I listen to my daughter’s playlist and try to make sense of “ska”, “metal” and other alternative songs that are as familiar to my brain as speaking Punjabi. My brain is too set to become fluent in new language or music styles.

Singsongs in Miramichi NB and Twillingate NL

This past summer we went to Newfoundland, the only Canadian province we had not visited. Newfoundland culture is unique as geographic isolation has allowed language and music to change at a much slower pace than the rest of North America. Communities on The Rock are often remote and all generations work and play together. Newfoundland kitchen parties are common and we attended a couple of them. The events have live music with instruments that range from guitars, fiddles and keyboards to spoons and ugly sticks. There really isn’t much distinction between audience and performers as everyone is free to sing and dance along. I loved Newfoundland and its people and their spontaneous, joyful musical expression.

Every Friday afternoon, a group of “Newfies”, who now live in Ontario, come to the hospital for a singsong with the patients. They play from a book (words only) with at least 100 songs and take requests from the audience. It is a transplanted kitchen party and they sing for a couple of hours at least. I took a patient with early onset advanced dementia to the auditorium when they were singing  “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver. 

“Peter, Paul and Mary,” he said as he sang the words. 

I am always amazed at music memories people retain. Each week we have a drum circle where patients choose a rhythm instrument and sing simple, familiar songs. Even if they don’t know the words, they can carry the beat.

We risk losing a shared musical community in our diverse urban world. The best music experiences link us with others. Christmas carols and songs are one of the few genres of music left that are widely familiar across generational groups in Western culture. Give me a kitchen party, a street party, a performance in a park or a singsong in the hospital. Give me a song I can sing and play too. 

Music on the street in old Montreal PQ

Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong.
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad.

Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
your whole life long.
Don't worry that it's not
good enough for anyone
else to hear.
Just sing, sing a song.

Joe Raposo


  1. Music does seem to be the bridge for so many cultures in terms of how they see themselves and communicate their stories. I think of the times when we were in Ireland, and how much of the music there tells the story of the country and the history. It's important that they are passed down, lest people forget what those before them lived in and through. Lovely post, Ruth.

    1. Newfoundland culture is basically transplanted Irish culture. The "Irish" accent on the east coast of the Island is as pure as that in the motherland. Interesting that you mentioned it.

  2. Oh, an ear worm. I will have this song in my head now tonight.
    I completely agree with your observation that music is so deeply seated within our brains that, even as other faculties may fail, we can still produce and respond to music.
    By the way, any time you "miss" a prompt, you can always go back to it if inspiration strikes.

  3. What a wonderful story! Music does link us all together, doesn't it, Ruth??

  4. I am alwyas singing, humming or whistling at least in my head. Oddly enough, I very seldom play music.

  5. Your oust reminds me of the documentary, "Alive Inside." After seeing that, I set my mom up with an iPod with her old favorites on it. She's still quite conversant, much higher functioning than the patients in the documentary, but still, I was moved to tears, watching her listen and enjoy it so much. The power of music!


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