In her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle makes a commonsense suggestion so simple we might miss its power and urgency. Make face to face conversations normal again. Here I offer a corollary suggestion. Make face to face singing normal again.
The changes of practice in these two areas have much in common. For starters, while dramatic—and indeed of civilizational import—changes in conversation and singing have become so normal as to be barely noticed. We still ‘hear’ and feel like we participate in much talk and still ‘hear’ much singing. In fact, in a sense we’re fairly drowning in talk and music, so we might not feel the absence of either. But the reality is otherwise.
“We are being silenced by our technologies.” Turkle’s words about conversation apply at least as aptly to song. We probably still feel as though we have something to say, but how many feel as though they themselves have something to sing? And if they do, what can they do about it?
Part of Turkle’s genius is her can-do approach: “…the remedy most simply, is a talking cure.” “Conversation cures.” In other words, the way out of this is simply to start doing again what we’ve lost. We can make face to face conversations happen. We can make singing together happen. Even if it’s not the prettiest sight in the world.
“Studies show that when children hear less adult talk, they talk less.” The flipside, of course, is our reason for hope. And again, without doubt this applies fully to singing.
What better place to begin than the corner of our calendar where at least the notion of singing together still has a toe hold. Anyone. Everyone. It’s not about virtuosos or perfect pitch. It’s about doing a profoundly human thing together, for a deeply human reason: in celebration of something great.
There is much to work with here. Many already know the words, and if not, at least the melody. This goes a long way. In his classic A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas writes in the closing paragraph,
Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang… and another uncle sang… Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night.
It might not be in our reach that our children will remember a Christmas night like that. But no doubt we can move a lot closer to it.
If nothing else, even if we just don’t think we can part our own lips in song (and that’s a hard case to make!), we can enthusiastically support and encourage singing together, face to face. And who knows the difference it might make, to bring singing—our singing—into our homes once again.
To aid any and all in this endeavor we share today two practical resources for Christmas: a simple downloadable Christmas carol booklet you can print out, and audio files to (re-)teach you the songs in it. Please visit Sofia’s Corner: Singing in the Home. This year we can start small, to make our homes ring with our singing.
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.