When I was in a choir in college, my conductor told us that singing is the most holistic of musical activities.
I believe that. Singing utilizes one instrument built into our physical body to express ourselves, build harmony and create engaging experiences. Singing is a barometer of your energy level. If you see somebody humming or singing to herself as she goes about her day, you’d assume she’s in good mood. We sing only when we have sufficient level of life energy in us. A tired and depressed soul would have a hard time finding the energy to sing.
The other day I was driving by myself and my playlist played King’s X’s “Dogman.” It’s a pounding heavy song about one’s struggle with our own inconsistencies, flaws and vulnerabilities, and Dug Pinnick screams and rants passionately with his rich baritone. I love this song and even though I hadn’t sung before that day and my voice wasn’t really warmed up to tackle this demanding song, I went for it anyway.
And I was surprised by power I felt in my own voice. I had a great time singing. I love rock n roll because it embodies power, passion and boldness. To me, it represents what it means to embrace life to the fullest — it’s not casual nor timid. And “Dogman” is one of the best and epitome of the power of rock n roll. It is not a happy song but by courageously exposing our vulnerabilities we give ourselves permission to live as who we are, with faults and imperfection and all, and still live and thrive.
You’d think music is something to listen to, but when you physically react to it, whether it’s tapping your toes or head banging, it enhances your experience. You are relating to the art, and relating creates a sense of connection. You no longer feel isolated, it creates a sense of shared experience and that gives us power and energy. And singing along is one of the deepest way to relate to a song. You raise your voice to join in the chorus (literally) and the experience affirms your feelings, tells you that it’s OK to feel what you’re feeling and be who you are.
That’s why my favorite kind of music are those I can sing along. I love instrumental music just fine but I do miss the intense experience of singing along — just humming the melody isn’t quite the same. When words and music come together it creates acutely relatable experience. And as far as relatability is concerned, few are better than Toad the Wet Sprocket and King’s X. Because they sing about real life, real emotions, in a direct, unflinching and honest way, wrapped up in music that is thoughtfully and inventively written. It’s also no coincidence that Dug and Glen Phillips usually sing in ranges that are comfortable to common men. Rather than performing from the point of view of showcasing one’s greatness, their melodies come meet us where we are, make themselves accessible to sing along.
I am a huge fan of music not because I’m after the experience of admiring talents far beyond mine, though there’s nothing wrong with that. I believe in music because the experience of participating in musicmaking uplifts me like nothing else. Especially when the song embodies feelings that have a hard time finding other channels of expression — vulnerability, sorrow, rage, and so on. These are all part of the full spectrum of human emotions but for better or for worse they have a harder time finding the right places to fit into our civilized, normalized life in developed and comfortable societies. In advanced communities where our basic needs of survival are more securely met, art takes on increased significance for this reason. When our body’s survival is assured we next look for the survival and energizing of our minds, or our emotional body. Because we aren’t made up of just one layer — it’s really a requirement for both our body and soul to feel nurtured and fueled for us to truly come alive.
So I encourage all of us to physically react and join in the music if you hear something good. It doesn’t matter how you do it, or how well you do it. You can sing off key or tap your toes out of sync with the beats. The point is that you engage with music, you immerse yourself more by not justing receiving what it gives you through your senses but by joining with it through physical movements.
That’s the best way to enjoy music. And the more you enjoy music, the more you enjoy your life, and your enjoyment will rub off on people around you, and make the world a better place.