Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Sing Your Heart Out

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Sing Your Heart Out

Article excerpt

If you can't find the words to convey what you feel, it's time to belt out a song, says culture columnist Patrick McCormick. If the occasion is important, there's bound to be a song to help us find our one voice.

I don't know about you, but for me the feel-good movie moment of last summer was the rehearsal-lunch scene in the otherwise lackluster romantic comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding." In the scene, an entire table of guests and relatives break' into a jubilant and nearly giddy version of Burt Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer." And before you can ask the way to San Jose, the whole restaurant has joined in on the chorus in a foot-tapping, hand-clapping harmony that sounds like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on a sugar rush.

Even in the darkened theater I wanted to get up on a table and do the chicken dance, wishing it didn't feel quite so silly to clap in an octiplex. Though not as extravagant, my wife and I had a similar experience at our wedding last July. Hoping to set a joyful and inclusive tone to our celebration, we invited the assembled guests to warm up their voices by joining the parish choir in an upbeat rendition of the Dixie Cups' "Going to the Chapel." And while this slightly unorthodox preliturgical overture may not have reached the harmonic heights of the scene in "My Best Friend's Wedding," in some small way that campy little ditty helped transform a mixed congregation of guests and family into a jubilant community that suddenly found a voice for the joy and love they had come to share with us. It also let them know that we had invited them there to celebrate, not just observe, the sacrament of our marriage.

What is there about singing with others that seems to tap into such passions, that brings us so suddenly and immediately into contact with our emotions? Why is it that singing together can evoke such joy or sorrow, or that it can bridge the distance between ourselves and others with such apparent ease? Why is it that children coming home from summer camp seem to bubble over with all the silly songs they learned around the campfire, or that after having listened to these looney tunes a hundred times you suddenly catch yourself humming them in the shower?

Even those of us who don't sing well carry around fragments of childhood songs, Broadway or pop tunes, and half-forgotten hymns inside of us. And there's pleasure being in a strange church and suddenly stumbling on an old familiar hymn whose melody and lyrics have long since worn their way into our heart. Singing does something to connect us to one another.

Shakespeare argued that "music soothes the savage breast." Perhaps, but music, or song, also gives voice to our passions--mournful and joyous. In singing we find a way of saying the things that are behind and between our words. Whether our songs are Christmas carols, love ballads, soulful spirituals, or the hearty marches that send young men off to war, singing does much more than share information or express a point of view.

It allows us to get in touch with and express our mood, color, and tone. And many of us find a voice in singing that is usually reserved for poets. In "Singing Our Lives" (an essay in Practicing Our Faith, Jossey-Bass/San Franciso, 1977) Don Saliers notes that "whatever people can say with passion and in heightened speech they will end up singing in some form. When our language is used to move beyond the mere giving of information, we come to the threshold of singing."

I like the feel of that phrase, "the threshold of singing." It reminds me of tapping feet at the edge of the dance floor, or of children who have just spotted an ice-cream truck. Something very sweet is about to burst open, something impish is getting ready to kick things into a richer, livelier gear--like Dorothy and Toto just about to shift from black and white into Technicolor. On "the threshold of singing" we've reached a place where our words have taken on a bubbling passion that not even a quiver full of exclamation marks can contain, a place where the only punctuation needed comes in allegro, fortissimo, and piano. …

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