Last week I saw a wonderful movie about the power of singing. It's called "The Singing Revolution" and it tells the story of Estonia, and their battle against cultural annihilation. A battle they won, in part, because they sing, and have songs. Last year at this time I was fortunate enough to be in Latvia for their Song Festival, where I was in the audience for the song that is featured in this video. It's a very powerful song, and for the Latvians, a very subversive song that gave them strength during the Soviet occupation. (They actually sang it three times in a row that night)
It's something that has been driven out of American culture for the most part. Music is a product, like many other things in our culture, and not something that belongs to us (unless we paid $.99 to Itunes) Children start out singing, and teaching kids through song is universal in preschool, less now in kindergarten and then over by first grade. We are hard-wired for singing, and it stays in all of us, but other than "The Star Spangled Banner" at a baseball game, we don't all sing together. I think that unless you travel, you don't notice how bizarre this is. I was on the tube in London one day, and the car filled up with middle school kids on a school outing. It was completely packed. The train rolled a few stations, and then stopped in between, pitch black, and sat dead for 10 minutes. It was very unpleasant, as they say in Britain. Then spontaneously, the kids started to sing. We waited for about 45 minutes, and the middle schoolers never ran out of songs.
On another trip, I spent several winter months in Sweden. The sun sets at about 3 in the afternoon, so the evenings are very long. The young crowd I was hanging out with in those days were typical 20 somethings. But at every evening party I attended, or dinner, they sang. One dinner of 30, at a large round table, each guest was required to sing a song. Those with sweet voices sang pretty songs, those who lacked singing talent sang funny songs. When my turn came, I was saved by the fact that my parents were Berkeley graduates. I went to Cal camp every summer, and I knew "The California Drinking Song". I don't know if parents teach their kids songs about "drinking to California til we wobble in our shoes" anymore, but it got me out of a jam!
Back to Estonia, and my point. The Baltic people didn't overcome the Soviet occupiers with high test scores, or by teaching their two year olds sight words. They knew songs, and they were proud to sing them. Music is a cultural heritage, and if we don't make it a higher priority, it will be completely lost. Which is a shame, because it's not just an important part of us, it's an important part of us that we may someday need.