If you love to sing, you’ve come to the right place. Now, notice I didn’t say, ‘if you are a good singer’ or if you want to sing professionally’ or if you want to join a choir. For me, what makes the concept of the community sings so powerful – and they are are powerful – is that they are for everyone. Everyone who loves to sing that is. The community sings I’ve been associated with attract all kinds of singers – professionals, casual crooners, shower singers and those that were asked politely in the third grade to just mouth the words. Community sings are not performances. They exist so like minded people can gather in community and, well, sing! I have spent decades performing at coffee houses, on concert stages, in schools, senior centers – you name it – and nothing feels better than leading and teaching a casual group of enthusiastic singers how to make singing a tradition in their town. That’s what this blog is all about: How to make singing a tradition in your town.
Every community sing I’ve been involved with takes on the personality of the group that gathers. For this reason, there are no hard and fast rules that work for everyone. I hope that this blog becomes a forum – not just for my ideas – but for the collective wisdom of all of you who are already doing this in your community, or who are willing to give it a try. Let me begin by describing how we do our community sing in Kent, Ohio. Our group started in September of 2012.
Our community sing meets one evening a month. In the first year we met on the first Tuesday of every month and in the second year it was the first Wednesday (we switched because there was a conflict with the monthly town council meeting). We meet in the the lower level of the local Unitarian Church (they graciously let us do this for free). We sing from 7-8:30 PM. It does help to have at least one confident musician-type in attendance – someone who can keep a good tempo, play an instrument (if necessary), and just keep the song together. I usually start every sing with the same song (in our case it’s “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” by Tom Paxton. Pick a song that’s easy to learn quickly. After that we go around the circle. When it’s your turn you may, lead a song, suggest a song, or pass. Remember, if you’re doing this right, there will be a wide range of confidence in the group. As the organizer, the most important thing I do is create a safe and welcoming space for the musical magic to occur. Most of the attendees have a copy of Rise Up Singing: the “hymnal” of the community sing. I would recommend having extra copies available, and for sale for the newcomers. I encourage all types of songs. You will quickly find that some work better than others—that will be the topic of a future blog.
This simple act of singing together has been an amazing experience on so many levels. Science is showing us that singing together in community has health benefits (another future blog). I’ve watched reluctant singers become confident singers. I’ve seen small groups form and sing professionally. I know of at least three cancer patients who have used these sings as part of their recovery … who knows all the hidden stories. What I do know is that everybody who comes feels better when they leave. And I want to be a part of that.
I hope to use this space to bring together the wisdom of the folks who have already caught on to this wonderful, old idea as well as share any information that can help you start one of these in your community. As an already traveling musician, I am available to come to your community to model my best practices as well as teach workshops on song leading and organization. I would also encourage you to attend my class at the Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, NC in early July. This will be my sixth year teaching during Traditional Song Week.
There are so many topics to cover in this blog and I am open to any and all suggestions. I am also open to any guest bloggers who have had successes with community singing. I want this to be the clearing house for community sings everywhere – a comprehensive list of sings, suggestions on getting the word out, song leading tips and tricks – anything that helps spread the concept. I have decided to devote the next phase of my musical career to inspiring communities all over the world to start singing together. I encourage and appreciate your help!