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Who can’t sing?

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Sometimes after singing songs with a crowd, I hear friends or strangers compliment me on my singing. That’s always nice to hear. But then sometimes they add something else—“I can’t sing”. And I don’t think that feeling is limited to a few people I talk to; standing on the crowded banks of the Charles River for the July 4 celebration, I’ve marveled every year at how my little knot of friends and I are the only ones in the vicinity who sing along, even to the national anthem.

That’s a sad situation. Singing is fun, singing is a social activity that brings people together, and singing is a tool of expression that social movements from the Reformation to the Civil Rights Movement and into the present day have used for its power to stir emotions and affirm common purpose. I think it’s a recent one, too. A century ago, all kinds of people sang—working or playing, on a ship or at home with friends and a banjo. In those days the most skillful singer you’d hear all week was someone who lived in your community. Today, I think many of those people who say they “can’t sing” really mean they can’t sing like Michael Jackson, or Lady Gaga, or maybe Pl├ícido Domingo. And how many of us can? But why should we have to? Singing is for the singers, and not only for a hushed audience.

So I was intrigued today by the following anecdote from a musician I respect:

Back when I was a touring musician I met a lot of people who insisted they were monotones. Sometimes I had time to sit down with them and with considerable encouragement they matched every pitch I gave them. With still more encouragement they carried a tune. They were victims not of genetic impoverishment but of cultural theft: the theft of their birthright of singing.

May every self-described monotone or nonsinger receive such personal encouragement. In the meanwhile, all of us who do sing should take time to step off of our pedestals, if we have any, and make singing a part of the social life available to everyone.

In this spirit, I love how the MIT Concert Choir sings Messiah each year right in Lobby 10 for passersby to join in. What steps like that can you take?

Written by Greg Price

May 24th, 2010 at 1:16 am

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Two celebrations, two observations

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It’s late and I’m going to bed, so this will be short.

This weekend was packed for me with fantastic, joyous events that don’t happen every year. An old friend got married, and the Harvard Glee Club and its two sister choruses held a huge reunion to mark the retirement of their longtime conductor. (The latter was joyous in reunion and in remembrance of his career—not in the fact that he’s leaving!) At each event I caught up with a number of people I hadn’t seen in several years, and at the wedding celebrations I also met a large number of young mathematicians, colleagues of the bride and groom.

Two observations. First, at the Glee Club reunion I saw a cross-section of Harvard graduates between one and five years out, and heard what they’re all up to. One thing I heard from very few of them was that they have today a job directly on the career path they want to follow for life. Maybe half are in graduate school of one sort or another, some after working a job, some not. Many of the rest talk about entering a program next fall, or applying next year. One guy quit his job last week, another is going to quit next month—either to write plays, or work in politics, he’s not yet sure which—and another has realized he hates his job and the whole career path it lies in and is trying to figure out his next move so he can quit too. While in school, particularly senior year, it often seemed like everyone had their whole future paths exactly figured out. It’s comforting in a way to know that so many of them were wrong.

Second, everybody still loves Ksplice. I must have told at least thirty people, either that I’d just met or just caught up with after years, that we make those ‘reboot’ popups obsolete. Most everyone was suitably glad to learn of the idea; one reached out and shook my hand a second time. And then I think I broke new ground for Ksplice when one of them was so happy for the death of reboots that he gave me a hug.

Written by Greg Price

May 3rd, 2010 at 2:45 am

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