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If You Wanna Sing Out…?

All that shines...

All that shines…

Iman disapproved of my including Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me” in my list of songs I was currently listening to when he asked his friends to share their listening lists. While I do not defend the artistic merits of the song itself, I do defend my reason for having it in my playlist.

I like to sing this song. I’ve liked singing it for 18 years now. It’s in my perfect range and the tempo is somehow irresistible. As long as no one can see me emoting like a 15-year-old who just got dumped by her boyfriend, I will continue to sing this song.

Which begs the question: if a song is singable, does it make it a more enjoyable (if not necessarily more artistically interesting) song to listen to? How do the actions of listening and singing intertwine? Or perhaps a much bigger question: why do people sing?

If music is a biological imperative, singing must be a large part of that. Long before humans constructed the first rudimentary drum or carved the first crude flute, they had their voices. It’s been speculated that Neanderthals sang before they spoke, that music predates language. The ability to recognize pitch comes from a different part of the brain than the ability to decipher words.

Singing is transformative. You participate in the music, immersively. Change the tempo a bit, go up an octave, blend in some harmonizing, and you reflexively make yourself a part of the song.

Singing feels GOOD. While I am generally not an all-inclusive proponent of “If it feels good, do it,” in this case I am. Singing is a joy. Singing lights up those pleasure centers in the brain. It doesn’t matter if you have perfect pitch or even if you have a voice that others are happy to hear. (I heard a guy at the mall the other day, waiting for the Foot Locker to open, singing at top volume with his headphones on. He’ll never be a YouTube sensation and his off-key tune set my teeth on edge a little, but his sheer enthusiasm and clear LOVE for the simple act of singing gladdened my heart.)

So if you enjoy singing a song, does that make it a good song? Absolutely not. But it makes it a worthwhile song, because you derive enjoyment out of the act of singing it. Life is so full of hardship and pain and just plain boredom. If singing alleviates some of that, let it.

On a last, somewhat tangential note, some time ago I was driving in the car with my kids and I started singing “Galileo” by the Indigo Girls with the radio, in all-out, full-on vibrato. After it was over, my 17-year-old son said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard you sing like that. I’d forgotten how good you are.” Anyone who has teenagers will know how completely surprising and delightful it was to receive that high-level a compliment. Talk about finding pleasure in song!

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