I am a singer at heart – not a singer as in people want to hear me sing, but one as in that’s what I do when I can and it’s actually a bit hard for me sometimes not to sing, as when I’m working along and can’t see others in my office but know they are within earshot. (I don’t mean that I do sing in that circumstance; that would be rude and obnoxious. I just mean I have to impose some control on myself to make sure I don’t.) I play guitar a little, but I’m not pulled to it in the same way, and my only real interest is to accompany myself.
When I sing, it doesn’t mean I’m happy; my brain tends to supply songs to suit the moment. I’m very much a word person, so it’s the lyrics that matter – happy or wistful or dramatic or exultatory as the case may be. Or suited to a particular time or place. In particular, I have songs for this time of year; my usually ones are Bob Franke’s Thanksgiving Eve and Gordon Bok’s Turning Toward the Morning, with which I fell in love before I ever even heard the tune. (Though Bok’s voice would have made me fall in love with it anyway, if I hadn’t already.)
I think it’s time to add to my autumn repertoire: Robin Williams’ October Song (which I know from Cindy Kallet’s cover of it) and Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes?. I just can’t figure out why those two songs are so elusive. There are songs I can hear once and sing back, and ones I need to review over and over and I still forget parts. I can’t quite figure out what the difference it, though it probably has a lot to do with how predictable the song is – teling a coherent story or staying within a metaphor or just repeating itself. These two are hard, but somehow I feel I’d be better for knowing them.
One of my rants, one of my regrets about current culture, is the idea that you have to be of nearly professional standards before you can sing in public. Shows like The Voice are great for bringing music into living rooms and for letting people see how much technique there is in singing well, but I don’t think they should set the standard for life. Also they tend to reward only one style of singing (loud and dramatic, mostly). You’ll never hear a beautiful lullabye singer or a laid-back Bing Crosby crooner or someone who can chant a chantey loud enough and rhythmic enough to motivate people to do physical work. I like sing-alongs, I like people to sing while they’re working, and I even like when they sing off-key with their favorite song on the radio. It’s like sports: if you get joy from it, you should be encouraged to do it, even if you’re not really that great, because it’s a better world when people get to do the things that give them joy and challenge and consolation.