Creative: Strengthen Your Spirit
his father’s sheet music
Kris Moon Kondo
People the world over recognize the need for celebration and festivities to mark our days and express gratitude for life itself. What would a festival be without music? This morning while browsing through Patricia Donegan’s book, Haiku Mind, I came across the above haiku by Kris Moon Kondo. Ms. Donegan’s commentary gives insight:
Music and song, the primal urge to express delight in the world, to breathe energy into the world. We sing to express our aliveness: alone in the shower, a group in a Dublin pub, Pavarotti on stage, or native people around a camp fire. On key or off, it doesn’t matter; whether a Mozart cantata or guitar blues, we sing because we are alive. I remember my father telling me of the old “bicycle trains” in Illinois, where his club, The Sprockets, would meet in the rail yard, put their bikes in one train car and sit in another, singing 1940s songs together for hours, all the way to the countryside, where they would ride their bikes, energized by their singing. In postmodern culture, because we mostly listen to others singing with our private earplugs rather than singing ourselves, we have lost participation in everyday life.
Ms. Donegan’s words reminded me of my neighborhood birds who sing at sunrise, each with its distinctive song, yet they all seem to blend harmoniously. The chorus lasts for a good fifteen minutes or so, then it’s over, and they go about their day. I’m not a biologist, but I know why they greet each day in communal song. It’s their daily celebration of life.
What if people did that? What if we all opened our windows each morning and burst into a billion different songs, all in harmony? Oh to live inside a Broadway musical... but until that happens, we can turn to holidays as a good excuse to burst into song. So, unplug yourself and go out caroling, or sing around the piano with friends, or strike up a tune with your kids at the dinner table, only good could come of this...
Yesterday there was a story in the BBC News Magazine about an old radio program called, Singing Together, which aired on the BBC for sixty years. It was created in 1939 for school children as a way to lift their spirits and strengthen the community in the face of threatening world events. Here’s an excerpt from the article in the BBC News Magazine, November 27, 2014. I especially liked the comment from Brian Wright relating how much the program meant to him as a child growing up in Northern Ireland:
For nearly 60 years the long-running BBC Schools radio programme Singing Together got generations of children singing in classrooms across the country. What made it so special and why does it still have a place in people's hearts, asks the BBC's Ruth Evans.
Every Monday morning at 11am pupils at schools across the country would turn on the radio. For the next hour they would belt out anything from Cockles and Mussels to a bit of Van Morrison.
For decades the BBC Schools Broadcasting series Singing Together was part of school life. From the earliest days of broadcasting, children had a central place in the BBC's own definition of its role - to educate, inform and entertain.
Singing Together began in September 1939 as a practical response to the difficulties of teaching during the war. Mass evacuation led to children being scattered around the country away from their homes and schools, but wherever they were they could switch on the radio and sing. In an archive interview, the first presenter Herbert Wiseman recalled how the idea came about.
"What about broadcasting a few songs and encouraging all, no matter where they were, to take part. A title for such a series? Oh, easy - Singing Together."
On 25 September 1939, only a few days after the war had begun, the programme was first broadcast. Songs were chosen for their simplicity and each programme contained a song with a "rousing chorus, a song with a beautiful melody and a nonsense song", according to documents from the time.
It was intended to be a temporary programme. Concentrating on folk songs from around the British Isles led some in the BBC to feel it didn't do enough formal music teaching. For them it was tolerated more than loved, but in schools it was hugely popular. At one point an estimated eight out of 10 schools were tuning in - as well as others.
As Wiseman put it: "From 1939 to 1946 I had the privilege of introducing new music, not only to thousands of school children, but to their mothers who, I'm afraid, deserted their Monday morning washtubs to join us in song."
Its popularity ensured Singing Together continued long after the war. In the late 1940s a new presenter took over - William Appleby, a schools music organiser from Doncaster. He was a hugely charismatic figure. His Yorkshire accent marked him out at a time when Received Pronunciation ruled the airwaves. His voice and enthusiasm endeared him to many listeners.
Brian Wright, who went on to work as an education officer for the BBC, says he heard the broadcasts at his tiny primary school in Aughnacloy, Northern Ireland.
"The great thing about William Appleby is that although he had a clear voice, it was not a posh voice. That made us children living out in the regions feel he was one of us, and this was different and unusual and he was on our side."
The program ended in the mid-1990s and an attempt to revitalize it in the 2000s failed. Maybe we should consider modernizing the idea. Now, more than ever, people need to find ways to come together and link our common desire for peace into a worldwide thread. Music can do that.
You can listen to sunrise birdsongs here - interestingly, the birds on this recording are in the woods of Illinois, a nice link to Patricia Donegan’s story above.