Do you ever wake up with a song in your mind?  I do.  Today I woke up singing our Hymn of the Month,  The Lone Wild Bird.  This is not unusual for me.  The music around me really does permeate my inner life.  Inside my head, I tend to continue to sing music I am playing on my oboe, choir music, children’s music, and now even hymns.  I am constantly finding new ways to do old songs.  Considering the upheaval of the last few weeks, the dream lives we have could be corrupted with the political landscapes around us.  I have been told that you can program your dreams by imagining their content as something positive and even a song!  What I know for a fact is that singing is healing, and healing is our theme for this month.

I am learning about the music of enslaved people for a study group I am hosting with our choir members every other Thursday at 7 pm.  (If you email me, I can send you the link if you are not in the choir.  All are welcome to attend.)  Music was central to the life of enslaved workers on plantations.  People sang constantly.  They sang as they worked together in the field.  They sang as they cooked and cared for their children.  The singer and scholar Ysaye Barnwell has said that in the African/American tradition, which evolved out of enslavement, there is no distinction between secular and sacred music; all of it is a way of engaging the spirit.  More recently, when I think of the role of music in the Civil Rights Movement, those songs furthered the causes of equal rights, racial justice, and anti-war sentiment.  Peoples’ community singing was to further a sense of safety and belonging, to lessen a feeling of abandonment, to have a pathway for their lives toward something better.  Remember the singing in the movie, Selma?  As they walked across the bridge, they sang.  Their spirits did not falter because they sang together.

Such singing is not about skill, though many are excellent singers.  (One’s singing does improve with practice!)  It is more about a willingness to give yourself over to a cause that is bigger than the sum of its parts.  You create a common bond with those fellow singers because of your shared commitment. 

I just received a flyer from a choir member about the “Daily Antidote of Song—SINGING FOR RACIAL JUSTICE” through the D.C. Revels Singing for Racial Justice.  Every day at noon, you can hear someone singing a song   Most of the singers featured are not yet known to me, but we will check it out.  Maybe you will, too.  It will likely lift your spirits in the way that music specifically does.

One problem with the pandemic is the isolation and possible sense of abandonment we could be feeling, especially with the prospect of its continuing through the winter.  While we cannot sing together, we can sing virtually together.  It isn’t the same, but it is all we have right now.    We sing hymns together.  Guy and I create them so that you hear others singing and can join in with us.  I hope that you do that.  Even if you do not wake up singing, you can plan to sing a song upon waking.  The most important take-away here, no matter how musical you are or how much you enjoy participating in music making, you can include yourself in our community.  Singing is just one of the ways!  Certainly, it is my favorite.

Charlyn Bethell
Music Director | + posts

Charlyn’s professional training has followed two paths: as a professional oboist and as a music teacher and conductor. As Music Director at First Parish, she joins these two paths of her musical life, conducting the choir, coordinating guest musicians, and performing on oboe.