A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Monday, 4 July 2016

Sing. Sing out loud...

One of the best pieces of parenting advice I've ever received was from someone who was not even a parent. He was a musician and a music producer.


I can remember this day so clearly. My husband's sister Patty was celebrating her 40th birthday. Patty's husband, Jay, his brother Kevin, and his sister Jennifer, along with Jennifer's then-boyfriend (and music producer) Michael, were getting ready to play a concert on the deck at my in-law's cottage.
 
 
Michael was the drummer of the group. While he was setting up, both of my kids showed some interest in the drum set. So he let them give it a try.


My son Mitchell has always been an active and LOUD kid, as well as a clown, and we've channeled him to drums since he was quite little. At this time, when Taylor was in grade 3, she had started taking piano lessons at school, and her piano teacher said she was quite good at reading music.
  

As Taylor sat at the drums, I quietly said to Michael, "We will probably encourage her to take more music lessons because she's not a very good singer." I know that sounds harsh, but my husband and I both noticed that she sounded very off key when she sang. But this drummer straightened me out. He implored me not to discourage her from singing, saying she may learn. So I didn't rule it out.

My father was an excellent singer, involved in the Glee Club in university, and even sang with the Provincial Symphony Orchestra. I sang in the choir when I was in elementary school and for many years sang in the church choir along with my father. I would never say I was a "good singer" but maybe I was comparing myself to my dad, trying to live up to his standards.

I'm not a very religious person but, as a kid, I loved singing in church and especially loved singing Christmas carols - still do. One year, after we were married, but before we had kids, I was singing enthusiastically in church on Christmas Eve. After the service someone I know well said to me something along the lines of, "Boy, you like to belt out the tunes in church!" I can't remember exactly what she said, but I can easily recall the feeling of being shamed and embarrassed! I knew she was being sarcastic, and I was pretty sure it was a criticism.

When Taylor was in grade 4 she, too, started to love to sing. Her class was invited to participate in a program called "Blue in the Schools." As part of the summer Blues festival in our city, professional musicians and educators bring the Blues to local schools. They do large assemblies with the whole school but also work with a smaller group of students, sometimes writing music, learning instruments, or learning to perform. Taylor's class worked with a Blues singer from Toronto. After their 5-day intensive practice they did a performance for the rest of the school. Their joy was infectious!
 

Taylor enjoyed it so much she came home from school and said, "I don't know why I never joined choir, Mommy."  So from then on she sang in the school choir.

Despite the fact that she has dyslexia, Taylor is fascinated with words. First there were idioms, then knock-knock jokes, and riddles. Then she had little notebooks where she collected lateral-thinking quizzes and quotes from her favourite books.

In grade 6 Taylor started collecting the lyrics to her favourite Christmas carols. She printed them and put them in duo tangs and shared them with her friends. She and her friends were asked to sing Christmas carols before the morning announcements and then they were invited to sing at their school's assembly in December. Unfortunately it was a snow day and busses were cancelled, so there were only six of the girls at school that day. They resorted to asking the boys in their class to join them. (Taylor is in the pink shirt and pigtails, and you can just see Mitchell in the back row on the right)


Once kids are in middle school, music classes are all about instruments. Each class formed an orchestra and Taylor learned to play the clarinet. But she still sang in the school choir and was one of a select group of kids chosen to participate in "Blues in the Schools" again. They performed for the school, and parents, but they also got to sing on stage at the BluesFest; such a proud moment for her.
 

This year, Taylor's first year in high school, her choice for an Arts credit was vocal music, instead of instrumental. She took so much pleasure from learning more music theory and history. She now knows how to use her voice as an instrument. And Yes, I can hear you saying, "See, she did learn how to sing!"
 

The last week of April was the year-end concert with all the vocal classes in her school (about 100 students), plus choral groups from three other schools in the city. The concert took place in a beautiful French Catholic church in our neighbourhood. The parish was founded in 1891 by the Order of Capuchins and the church itself was built in 1914.  With the acoustics of this interior, and singers on two side balconies, hearing all those voices fill the air was truly magical, and moving. 

Taylor's not a very talkative person but when we got home from her performance she talked my ear off. She wanted to tell me more about the different songs, which parts she enjoyed, and when she got to sing the melody instead of the harmony (which is what the altos usually sing).

I was so pleased to see her passion. And so glad I didn't discourage her from taking that road to singing! She may not be the best singer in her class, and she may not have a solo - although I won't a rule those out either - but she takes great pleasure in her participation. And isn't that how it should be?

Video of "We Rise Again" performed by the Fourtissimo mass choir


One of the songs they sang as a mass choir was "We Rise Again," most frequently recognized for being recorded by The Rankin Family, a group of Celtic singers from Cape Breton. If you watch this video performance by the Rankin Family (along with other well-known Canadian singers including the coal miners of "Men of the Deeps"), you can see why the early settlers named my home province "Nova Scotia," meaning "New Scotland." This song has been described as an anthem of resilience and hope. The lyrics (below) speak to me about how we are made again through our children. I am a different person than I was before I became a mom. I have learned from my children - and healed through parenting them. It also tells me that when times are dark, we keep going for our children and they give us strength and hope. One of the singers from the Rankin Family said, "The song is about hope, looking to the future and looking to our children."

YouTube Video of "We Rise Again"
Watching Taylor's musical journey, seeing her become the songbird she is now, has made me realize that I've always chosen to do things that I know I'm good at - not knowing that you can do things simply for the joy of it.
 

The night of Taylor's concert I wore my Mother-Daughter bracelet that I call "Flower Power" because it's all about the lessons I hope to teach my daughter, but more importantly it's about the lessons I have learned from my daughter, as well as from my own mother. But to represent this particular lesson from Taylor I have the "songbird" charm on my Folklore bracelet.
 

I've always looked outside of myself for approval and recognition, but Taylor is not like that. Before her first piano recital when she 8, I asked if she was nervous and she said, "No. If I make a mistake nobody will notice."

Taylor has never been very competitive. She would participate simply for the inherent joy, the attending challenge, and the sense of accomplishment. She would come home from gymnastics and say, "Mommy, I can do a squat-on!" Of course I needed her to explain to me that that was a move on the uneven bars. No mark from the gymnastics judges. No medal or ribbon. Just the joy of having a challenge and mastering it.

On that Christmas Eve, many years ago, after singing in church, I allowed that criticism to make me feel that I shouldn't be myself. "I'm too loud. I take up too much space. I shouldn't sing so enthusiastically," said my inner critic. I've always felt I was criticized for being too energetic, too expressive, or too exuberant. I want to sing with joy and abandon, without needing the appreciation of others, regardless of the consequences. I'm not going to let someone make me feel ashamed for singing - singing out loud - and enjoying it.
 
Next time I'm singing in church, singing around the campfire, singing Christmas carols, or singing in the car, I'll sing like Taylor, just for the joy of it. I'll tell myself I'm "Free to Be Me." And, like The Carpenters' song says, I will "Sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong... Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing. Sing a song." I will take Mark Twain's advice to "Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth." Like Taylor.
 


"We Rise Again"
By Leon Dubinsky 

When the waves roll on over the waters
And the ocean cries
We look to our sons and daughters
To explain our lives
As if a child could tell us why
That as sure as the sunrise
As sure as the sea
As sure as the wind in the trees
We rise again in the faces of our children
We rise again in the voices of our song
We rise again in the waves out on the ocean
And then we rise again

When the light goes dark
With the forces of creation
Across a stormy sky
We look to reincarnation
To explain our lives
As if a child could tell us why
That as sure as the sunrise
As sure as the sea
As sure as the wind in the trees
We rise again in the faces of our children
We rise again in the voices of our song
We rise again in the waves out on the ocean
And then we rise again

We rise again in the faces of our children
We rise again in the voices of our song
We rise again in the waves out on the ocean
And then we rise again


Please excuse my absence of late. March dissappeared with Spring Break and then a holiday. April consisted exclusively of my being sick with a cold that turned into pneumonia. And now in May our computer is not working and WiFi is down. So please forgive me for any editing errors; I'm trying to post from my phone! Fear not, there are more stories still to come!

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