Wednesday, January 11, 2012

At the Top of My Lungs

Singing is medicine, isn’t it? I’ve never researched it. I’ve never heard or read any news reports on it. It’s just something that I know to be true. I know that when I’m belting out lyrics along with the Dixie Chicks it serves as salve on my road trips, healing the distance between where I’ve been and where I’m going.

I know that as I make up silly songs to friends as they answer the phone to simply wish them well, appeal for a coffee break, or re-create how it sounds to wish Happy Birthday that I feel better at the end of the song. They feel better, too.

After I sang my version of birthday wishes to Marcus last week, he said he was blushing. I can imagine. Overtaken by a song, not lyrically advanced, not delivered on vocal chords trained for precision, but genuine, unrepentant excitement for friendship.

My singing wasn’t always well received. Growing up, my father often admonished me for singing at the dinner table or while he watched TV. After all, his guiding precept until we were all 18 was that children should be neither seen nor heard.

I know that in college I could entertain my walks between classes with humming that would string together highs and lows in what I felt was on par with the intricacies of superb classical music. And I liked the way the resonance felt in my throat and chest.

I sang growing up, both at school and at church. I sang in the church choir with my mom for a while, and I sang in the middle school choir after I withdrew from orchestra (read: never practiced, thus completely demoralized myself during an violin exam when I had to play Ode to Joy solo). In our school performance choir we wore gold sparkly bowties and cumber buns, and sang show tunes; I still recall lyrics to Barbara Streisand movies that I’ve never seen (“memories, light the corners of my mind…”).

I was never as good as my sister who heard pitch and tone, but that never bothered me much until I tried out for Governors’ School for the Arts one summer for singing and didn’t make it. I think that’s when I realized that I wasn’t very good after all, even if I did enjoy it.  

Some of my favorite memories of childhood are visits with my mom and my sister in my mother’s bed. She would have her guitar out along with her songbooks and we would gather together to sing. The pace was often slow for new songs as she found the right placement of her fingers for the chords, but we had “our” standards, like “Tiny Bubbles” that were easy for her to play and for us to sing.

I still like going to church and singing with other voices. I like singing songs of hope, faith and love. I like that singing lifts a heaviness from me each and every time I do it.

I can sing about anything, seriously, anything. My friend Joanna received so many singing phone messages from me that she couldn’t save them all (though she tried), because she was convinced I have a future in jingles.

Singing just feels different than speaking. Messages in song without pretense of pitch, tone, or topic make me feel better. Singing releases the feelings on my heart.

In saying this I’m reminded of an interview I listened to of Krista Tippett interviewing Bobby McFerrin. He suggested that if you ever feel angry or upset that you should sing, because it’s impossible to be upset when you sing.

So here I am, singing at the top of my lungs.

Now, you try…

If you need someone’s ear or voicemail to experiment on, please feel free to use mine.  
Please sing me a message, and I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.
(this actually used to be my outgoing message…) 

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