We’ve all heard that famous line “music soothes the savage beast”. It is from a play by the English writer William Congreve (The Mourning Bride, 1697) and the words are actually “music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks and bend a knotted Oak”. Well when I feel like a “knotted Oak” singing and playing music makes me more relaxed and much happier.
As I have mentioned previously in this blog, several years ago I did some creativity classes at a local art group when I was feeling blocked. As part of the program we did singing to loosen up our creative minds. The teacher was both an artist and also ran a-cappella choirs. In the creativity class we learnt how to sing original language songs from different cultures: Indigenous Australian and Maori songs; African tribal and African American songs; European folk and Scottish Gaelic Songs. It really opened up our minds to World music and we learned a lot about singing in harmony.
Our teacher encouraged us to use the percussion instruments she brought to the classes, like Aboriginal clap sticks, African drums and various shakers. Clap sticks are made from Native Australian woods and they are much louder than Afro Cuban Claves. It was fun to sing and use percussion instruments and it helped with our timing. Ellie and I ended up singing with the teacher’s group for four years, until she moved interstate. Doing this group activity made us feel really good about ourselves and we have continued to sing whenever possible.
The world would be a much colder place without music. It brings people together and makes everyone feel better. Sadly in modern working life singing is usually separate from daily activities, unless you are employed in an enlightened business. People are rarely encouraged to sing as they work. In past centuries there were lots of working songs sung while people washed hand dyed textiles, worked on sailing boats, did the housework and other repetitive activities. Now all you hear is the blaring of radios from building sites or mind numbing Muzak in elevators or stores. There are buskers of course, but city council regulations don’t usually encourage group participation on a busy street and Flash Mobs don’t happen often enough.
What a different place our country would be if anyone could sing when they felt like it without constraint. If you do sing when walking along the street you just receive strange looks. Singing for the hell of it in public must break some unwritten convention about what is socially acceptable behaviour in our uptight society. You’d probably be classified as a public nuisance and get fined for making a disturbance in some places.
Unfortunately life is not a musical and we all have to create our own time to sing at home or with a community singing group. There is nothing better than getting together with a group of friends or like-minded strangers and having a sing-a-long. Even if you feel you cannot sing, you could learn an instrument, do percussion or become part of a drumming circle, anything that allows you to make a noise, especially with others, to free your spirit and get you out of yourself.
As a creative person I like to tell my own stories in song. Since childhood I have written poems, an interest inherited from my grandfather, who was always expressing himself this way. Most of my works use a rhyming style suited to song lyrics. I put these to simple melodies played with four or more chords on the guitar or ukulele. In my case the words come before the music, not the other way around, because I need to feel strongly about a subject for inspiration to strike and this involves writing. There are songs that I am quite proud of and have performed some these with Ellie, who also plays the ukulele, at gatherings of friends, at parties and small community groups.
Not all the verses I write end up working as a song and some remain as poems. The following is a poem written when sleeping in a caravan on our property during house renovations. I wanted to capture the sense of a stormy night being buffeted by the elements in what is virtually a flimsy tin can on wheels.
WILD NIGHT CARAVAN
The cold wind kicks her, she rattles, bells toll
Like a concrete mixer, she rocks and she rolls
The rains starts a thumping
It’s drumming, keeps coming
Sleep not so easy
Wild night caravan
While the storm rages, she shakes, she huddles
For what seems like ages, she waits, dog snuggles
The rain starts abating
Day’s breaking, still waiting
Sleep comes so slowly
Wild night caravan
I ended up writing some other lyrics about the caravan and created a better song. Sometimes you need to rework an idea before you hit on the right combination of words and music. Once it’s finished, I think it is valuable experience to go out there and try original material before a supportive audience. It can be daunting but you get used to performing your own stuff. Some songs work, some don’t, but it is important to keep on trying.
There is no need to be silent, afraid to sing or play music, whether it is someone else’s song or your own. You don’t have to be a virtuoso. Music is in all of us and if you practice regularly you will improve, no matter what anyone else says. Sharing your love of the medium with others is one of the most uplifting and fun things you can do.