Updated: Jul 5, 2022
“I don’t know how to sing; that is why I left the feast—”
I grew up singing. We sang in our grade school classes and in our high school assemblies. I sang in church, and I sang with my older sister while we did the dishes. My mother taught me songs from her childhood while I dried dishes for her. I sang around bonfires at summer camps. I sang in my college choir. When my husband bought me the LP record set of Handel’s Messiah, I prided myself in singing with the Huddersfield Choral Society (though they had no idea I existed). Home alone during my husband’s student days, I sang melancholy songs with Richard Harris and Glenn Yarborough while I dusted the living room, and belted out livelier songs as I vacuumed in order to hear myself over the vacuum cleaner. I sang to my children. When they went to school and my husband to the office, I continued to sing at the top of my lungs, home alone. I sang while I ironed; I sang while I did the dishes; I sang while I cooked.
This was all quite amateur, of course. I have never taken voice lessons—just singing for the joy of singing.
Ten years ago, when we moved to the United States from Hungary, Trent made his office in our home. I was no longer home alone. There are no doors between our kitchen at the back of the house and his office at the front of the house. Because I didn’t want to disturb him, I stopped singing.
I did not realize what was happening until later—much later, in fact.
I began noticing, singing in church or singing carols with our family at Christmas, that my voice was cracking or even stopping altogether at certain pitches. The singing that had been pleasurable was now disappointing and frustrating.
Then, on a recent visit to my aging mother-in-law, we were startled to find that her speaking voice was barely able to get sounds out. The doctor attributed it, in all probability, to slack vocal cords. My mother-in-law is an excellent communicator and loves to tell her children and grandchildren stories of her past. It is not for lack of speaking that her vocal cords have become slack. Singing does something for our voices that speaking does not.
Singing, in fact, is almost a miracle cure for whatever ails you—from your vocal cords to your mood.
Studies show that singing relieves stress, improves memory, stimulates multiple areas of the brain (even helping to fend off dementia), releases hormones that improve our emotional outlook, and boosts our immune systems—among other positive benefits. And yes, singing strengthens the vocal cords and even, with regular practice, can improve vocal tone.
The first known and preserved English song was written—and sung—in the seventh century. Poor Caedmon! He was shy and illiterate. At those feasts we love to imagine in vast and smoky torch-lit castles, where banquet tables are loaded with heaped-up platters, and strolling singers strum their harps, Caedmon would leave when the singing began. He did not know how to sing—he thought—and was afraid he’d be called on. He would hide out in the barn till the singing was over. On one of those occasions, he dreamed that he was being instructed to sing. He was “given” a poem or hymn and told to go back into the banquet hall and sing it—not speak it only—publicly. The dream or vision was convincing enough that he went! He sang the song we know as “Caedmon’s Hymn,” in praise of God’s creation. It was the beginning of a musical gift for Caedmon.
It is a rare person who can use the excuse “I can’t sing.” Even babies, before they have words, are known to sing—especially if they are used to hearing someone in their environment sing. While most of us will not receive a miraculous gift of singing, if we have a voice, we can sing. People who are tone deaf can still sing.
We don’t have to rush out and take singing lessons or even join a choir (although that’s not a bad idea). But did you notice how doing the dishes lends itself to singing? Try singing with your children while they help you in the kitchen. It will surely improve a tedious task and create an additional bond. It’s still true, of course, if you don’t have children to sing with, that it will make your work more pleasant.
It should go without saying that to lift the mood by singing, the songs we choose should be uplifting. The “Top Ten” may not make the cut. But there are plenty of uplifting songs out there. Once you “prime the pump,” you may remember loved songs from your own childhood.
I have begun singing again around the house, even when I’m not home alone. I like it. My husband says he likes it, too. We also sing together sometimes.
So, when the music begins, don’t leave the feast!