Sunday, 30 June 2013

There is no tradition of

communal singing in Australia - or not that I know of. 
I occasionally visit elderly people in aged care establishments where there is an attempt to get them to "sing-along" to old songs accompanied by bad piano playing or an ancient tape player. There will be tattered sheets printed with the words for "A bicycle built for two" and "My old man..." and wavering voices will endeavour to join in. If I ever reach that great age preserve me from that sort of "entertainment".
Do people sing at football matches? I don't think so. Many Australians do not even know the words to our dirge like national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair". I cannot blame them. It sounds awful. 
There are other places where, presumably, people sing. My maternal grandfather was the member of two male voice choirs, one of which still has a very fine reputation. There are school choirs - the Whirlwind sings in hers. There used to be a music festival for schools and I can remember the disappointment of some children when they were not chosen - although I suspect it had more to do with not being chosen to perform on stage at the Town Hall than being willing to do the work involved.. 
There is still a "do it yourself" Messiah each year somewhere in the city - usually led by one of the small groups of singers who get together for the sheer pleasure of singing or the singers from something like an opera group.
Oh yes, there is singing in Australia and I have no doubt that much of it is good - and much of it is terrible.
There is also singing in church and synagogue.  Did I hear you groan? Most Australians do not attend any religious service on a regular basis - but they will go for the "hatched, matched and dispatched" ceremonies. Hymns will be sung. Often the same hymns are used over and over again at such services. Yes, they may be appropriate - but I suspect they are also chosen because people know the tunes and consider that they are "right" for the occasion. 
But, pass a church on a Sunday and hear the halting singing of an unfamiliar hymn chosen because the priest, pastor, minister or preacher has chosen something for the words and nobody (not even the organist) knows the tune. Even with the benefit of familiarity the singing will often be flat, flatter, flattest. 
My paternal grandfather knew his hymns. He was, among many other things, an elder in his Presbyterian church. He could play the violin. Ask him for the accompaniment to a hymn and he would tune up and proceed. There were hymns I suspect he loved with a passion - "All people that on earth do dwell..." and "Guide me Thou O Great Redeemer..." were just two of them. Their tunes, played all stops out on an organ, are surely capable of binding singers together. Most people will know it as a hymn sung on great occasions in the Church of England...royal funerals and royal weddings in particular.
Someone I know slightly commented recently that she felt like walking into a church and singing the last one loudly. I don't know whether she can sing in tune or not but I rather wish she could do it. Perhaps people would join in. 
Does it really matter whether you believe the actual sentiments you are singing? The words of hymns are often rather odd. They are often contorted to fit the tune. Ask people about the words and they could probably tell you very little. Ask them about the music though and they might well be able to hum or sing the tune. I mentioned her desire to sing the hymn to my friend in Zambia and she sent this, 
"Niongoze, Bwana Mungu, ni msafiri chini...." It is the first line of  "Guide me Thou O Great Redeemer..." in Swahili...and, nun though she is, her point was that although most people would not understand the words they would understand the music - because music really is universal. 
Isn't it time we started singing? (Especially when a friend of my sister spent hours fixing the problem which would not allow me to start up my computer.)

1 comment:

Helen Devries said...

I miss singing...not that my voice is any good, but I used to enjoy the communal feeling of it - once I'd got used the the French Reformed church's idea of hymns.

All I hear from the Catholic church in town is a sort of tuneless dirge...goodness only knows what it is.