Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Singin’ for the Fun of It

Originally posted on December 29, 2010

I like to promote song fests, opportunities for all those who would like to enjoy singing together to do so. There’s singing well enough to be applauded as a performer; maybe well enough to even be paid for it—but that’s only for the top 2-8% of people! Most of us who like to sing and are somewhere in the middle, skill-of-singing-well-wise. So for the last 53 years I’ve been organizing occasional song-fests. The rules are simple: Provide song-sheets, so people don’t have to strain their brains trying to remember the words. Make the songs somewhat familiar, and if they’re not familiar to everyone, at least they’re relatively easy to sing. 

(Note that many popular and Broadway musical songs since the late 1970s have become significantly more difficult! They require a much higher level of precision—i.e., they’ve “raised the bar—when it comes to singing skills, so that on one hand, the singers are more impressive, which earns them more money; on the other hand, it leaves the rest of us in the dust. So I’m always looking for songs that are sing-able.)

The second phenomenon that has happened since the late 1960s is that more obscure poetry has entered the realm of song lyrics. There’s a spectrum from painfully banal, Oh, baby, baby, yeah yeah yeah to more clever—but still able to be understood by ordinary folks. Then it gets a bit more poetic and unclear, and this is sometimes quite lovely and successful but easily trips over into the almost annoyingly ambiguous; and many songs have become so weird as to be the equivalent of singing in another language. Anyway, for song fests, aim for the relatively unambiguous.  This also makes it easier to follow the ideas being presented in the song lyrics.

About accompaniment: If around 30% of the people can both sing loud and carry a tune, that will carry the other 70%—but you need that core. Someone who can play guitar or piano or some other instrument also helps. (This doesn’t include simple rhythm instruments, which add some fun noise but don’t help others to follow the tune.) If the leads sing softly, you need closer to 55% of them to be close to on-tune.

Generally a song fest goes for about 1 – 2 hours and then people get tired. It really starts warming up in about 30 minutes, so the first several songs may be awkward. I’ve found it useful to invite everyone to call out the song they feel they’d want to sing—from the song sheet—and the page number—and then we sing it. Occasionally, as we get warmed up, someone wants to offer a solo and we generally agree. Helping people to perform a bit gives others permission to dare share what they like to sing. But then we return to the group singing together.

Later, people greet each other and have the memory of having sung together; or the person who shared a special song will be imagined in association with that song. It builds nice subliminal connections within a community. More about this on a paper on my website.

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