There's something truly inspiring about community singing. The act of bringing people of all ages and all professions together and singing something - in unison or in harmony - is a tradition rich in history and meaning. Picture this scene from the early 20th century:
April 5, 1919
“At the first session of Farmers’ Week Mrs. Steele faced a packed house.
There were the reserved farmer and his family, the classic self-conscious professor, the shy freshman, the all-wise sophomore and the learned upper-classman. In addition, townspeople of all ages and professions were present. . . .With breathless suspense we waited to see what Mrs. Steele would do with this unusual gathering. Was it possible to make this audience sing? If Mrs. Steele had any trepidation or misgivings she did not betray them but stepped forward in her inimitable manner and said:
“First, I want everyone in this audience to know that he can sing. Why, everyone can and everyone wants to sing. It’s the simplest thing in the world. All you have to do is to forget about yourself; it’s self-consciousness that prevents most persons from trying. Can you sing? Of course you can. I know it. We are going to sing the first verse of The Star-Spangled Banner. Stand erect, hands straight down at your sides. Now open your mouths and sing.”
And with one movement of her baton the entire audience, led by the university band, the university glee club and the trained chorus of county agents, burst forth. . . .
"Don’t you see that you can all sing?” said Mrs. Steele.
“People get confidence in themselves when they hear others who have no more training than they have singing along with them. Now you know what Community Singing is. . . .It is the expression of the mass soul in song. A singing of the people, for the people, by the people.”
Trosper, B.B. (1919). “Community Sings,” excerpt. The Country Gentleman, Vol. 84. Luther Tucker & Son (63-64).
Isn't that great?! I especially love that last part: "Community singing. . . .is the expression of mass soul in song. . . .of the people, for the people, by the people."
Last Sunday, Steve and I walked to church for "Tent Sunday" - the one Sunday a year where choir members, pastors, and lay readers move outside the walls of the Sanctuary; where the organist plays a Casio keyboard; where the pages of the Bible on the altar flip back and forth in the wind; where the congregation sits in folding chairs and bulletins are used as fans.
The service began with a good, old-fashioned hymn sing.
For those of you who might not be familiar with the tradition, a hymn sing is a time when hymn favorites are called out by members of the choir and the congregation for all to sing. Together, everyone turns to "#77," for instance and sings 1-2 verses. Folks generally have their favorites ready to shout out at the conclusion of each hymn. Hands go up, numbers are called out, and murmurs of, "Oh yes, I love that one," are heard above the fluttering of hymnal pages. With a brief introduction, the crowd joins together with fullest voices, truly singing their hearts out.
Isn't this what it's all about?
Music is often considered an outward expression of the soul. Creating music together - with children and babies and grandmas and youth; with those who read music and those who know the words by heart and those who are experiencing it for the first time - that is the expression of all of our souls combined. How great is that?!
"Of the people, for the people, by the people" and how sweet it is.