Saturday, October 4, 2008

Music in the Tiers

I have spent the past two hours A) reading a number of excellent blogs by such talented writers; B)falling off the Internet and having to make three tries to get reconnected, only to have Blogger tell me, the old dinosaur, to clear my cache, chuck my cookies, and some other stuff I actually did, and finally signed back on, read some more and now.....I'm going to try to write something? Talk about performance anxiety.

Fortunately, the topic is about music, and I like to sing harmony. To do so, to join the chorus, one has to listen first to one's own voice, not influenced by the other harmonies/melodies surrounding the singer. When we all stick to our own part of the music, we sound pretty good together.

The Dulcimer Ladies came to play this week. Four women who bought mountain dulcimers, taught themselves to play, gradually finding other players to connect with, play with and learn from. A mountain dulcimer sounds a bit like a muted harpsichord, if you have never heard one. Hammer dulcimers have an entirely different sound and are not as plentiful. Dulcimers are easy to transport, easy to play, and were in a large number of American parlors in the 1800s, back when people sang for their own entertainment, and before the phonograph came into popularity. A church might not be able to afford a piano or organ, but somebody, probably several somebodies, played the dulcimer and could accompany the congregation to keep them more or less on key.

So the ladies played several old nineteenth century hymns and invited us to sing along. We all laughed, because we could usually remember the first verse and chorus, and after that it was "da-da-dum-dum-dum." They played some old, some of them very old, bluegrass tunes. And they played a song called "The Rivers of Texas" and promised to bring the words back. A retired teacher in her 80s remembered it--teachers used to teach Texas schoolchildren the song as an aid to learning the names of the many rivers in this very large state.

Rhyming and songs have been used through history to teach. I'm not quite sure when, and certainly not why, this has mostly stopped in the United States. About all that is left, it seems to me, is the "ABCs" (Which isn't a perfect learning tool--I earnestly told my first grade teacher that I could recognize all my letters except Lmnop. I thought it was like ampersand (&), you know, a lot of syllables signifying a single symbol. Do they still call it ampersand? Probably not.)

When I was 3 or 4, my parents and I would sit outside under the magnificent New Mexico stars and between enjoying the usual display of the Milky Way and the rudimentary astronomy lessons, my dad taught me a song that slyly taught me the days of the week:

Oh, Mrs. Shaady,
She is a laady,
She has a dauugh-ter,
Whom I adore.
I go to coouurt her,
I mean the dauugh-ter,
Every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturdaaay--
At half-past four.

Humans are wired to music, to making music, and to sing. It feels good. When we sing in a group, we feel connected, which is probably why so many religions use hymns, chants, and/or a singing liturgy as part of their services. It is also why nations have anthems.

Singing is good for us. It is an aerobic activity. And, an Air Force officer once told me, a defense against barfing in acrobatically flying planes.

Words, sentences, have their own rhythm and music. To me, writing is another way of making a kind of music. In a way, we are all, always, singing to each other.