The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 29, 2008


Cultural Compass - Why we should all sing

A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket,

I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it…

A tisket, a tasket, she took my yellow basket,

And if she doesn’t give it back, I think that I shall die.

– Traditional nursery rhyme

How many of us would swear that we “can’t carry a tune in a basket” and yet, music and singing are ingrained in all of us. As infants, we are attracted to musical sounds, respond and move to melody and cadence. What happens to us as we age? I am no behavioral scientist, but here is my theory: the problem is not that we cannot carry a tune, but that we drop our baskets.

Babies are naturally alert to new sounds and noises. They mimic what they hear with impressive accuracy. Often before they can put a proper sentence together, they can sing a lyric because the music helps to imprint the words in their minds. The “sing-song” way adults often speak to small children reinforces the ability to learn and retain language and abstract concepts.

As we grow older, we seem to hear less personal musical communication. Adults no longer sing or “sing-speak” to us; they talk to us. Their facial expressions, stimuli that reinforced our emotional and instinctive response to music, transfer to more prosaic messages. In addition, other stimuli begin to crowd out the more isolated audial ones we responded to in our early lives. We listen not so much for sound as for meaning and concept. Listening becomes conscious, complicated by the sense and meanings of words, instead of the natural act it was when we were babies. The less we practice listening just to sound, the more we lose the ability to hear its nuances, and soon we have dropped the baskets in which we used to carry our tunes.

Leaning on air

I started learning to sing a number of years ago to understand what my children’s school and semi-professional choruses were trying to achieve and to acquire a vocabulary that I could use to teach vocal projection and control to my acting students. What a revelation! Much more than just a set of metaphors to describe the internal workings of the lungs, diaphragm, and larynx, the process of singing peels away the oniony layers of acquired inhibition that block the ability to sing. It releases that sound by leaning on something we all work with every day: air. Just air. Who knew?

Learning how to lean on air to make music when you are a self-conscious, inhibition-riddled adult takes practice. It is athletic. You have to get out of your own way. I will never be a fine singer any more than I will ever be a good athlete, but I know that singing is scary, fun and exhilarating, perhaps like parachute jumping, only safer. When I started to rediscover my tune-carrying basket, it felt great. I thought it would be fun to sing with other people, so I checked out local opportunities to sing socially.

Singing with a chorus

While singing with a women’s chorus and a large community chorus, I learned something of music’s intellectual matter: how a piece is put together, how to work under a conductor to create sound effects that reflect the composer’s intent and create an audience response. It is fascinating. Just as important, however, is what blending my voice with others feels like. It is teamwork in its purest form, and when you get it right, it feels like winning, pure and simple.

My children have also been well served by singing. Both of them capped their chorus careers by conducting their school choruses and directing college a cappella groups. Now a music teacher, my daughter directs half a dozen school chorus groups and annual musicals. I sing duets with a friend of mine for fun, and my daughter and I have started working on a piece that we will sing just for the family. When my two kids are together at holidays, they still sing together. What joy.

Carlisle sings

Lots of people here in Carlisle are onto the magic too. Pliny Jewell, Sr., a member of the men’s chorus Saengerfest, was instrumental in forming their touring concert choir. Others are or have been part of the Savoyard Light Opera Company, Concord Chorus, Masterworks Chorale, Spectrum Singers and the Concord Women’s Chorus. The Carlisle School has enjoyed a large increase in the number of its chorus participants over the last few years as well as the satisfaction of winning state and local school chorus awards. Other Carlisleans sing in R&B, jazz and other small groups that often perform here at various venues and events. More sing with church choirs or in congregations where they worship. People of all ages come to singalongs in town. These folks have reclaimed their tune baskets. They know how uplifting it is to make harmony with their friends and neighbors.

We should all sing. It is, in fact, something all of us can do, even those of us who think we cannot. We just need to retrieve our musical instincts, move those tune-filled voices out of the shower, take a deep breath and join in. ∆

Want to join a choral group?

Check out the following websites. Most groups are starting their seasons in September and holding open rehearsals.

Classical choruses

Classical/show choruses

Show choruses (Sweet Adelines local chapter, Marlborough) (Sweet Adelines local chapter, Acton) (Barbershop group, Natick) (Barbershop group, Boston) (Northshoremen Barbershop group, Beverly)

If your group is interested in recruiting members from Carlisle, notify the Carlisle Mosquito at

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito