This is me and Paul Cavanaugh in 1975, with our first child, a daughter. She is 1 month old here, and we sang all the time. She would lay in my lap listening and watching wide-eyed. By the time she was 2 months, she was singing along, oohs and ahs in a musical tone. She had lullabies every night, and I sang songs about everything, including going on the potty, when she was older. Her brothers enjoyed the same. My life has been surrounded by a ongoing soundtrack from as long as I can remember. I want my children's and grandchildren's lives to have that same richness.
I like the sound of birds singing, the owls at night, running water, the wind, the ocean waves, and too many sounds in nature to name. I love the sound of laughter and, obviously I love the sound of singing, even out-of-key singing because it’s joyful. I honestly wish for a world where everyone can feel comfortable singing right out without worrying about bothering someone with the quality of their sound. Now, wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? That’s why I do the work I do sharing music with families. The children that grow up singing at home with their friends and family end up singing with their friends and families when their grown, passing on this love of music. I grew up in a family that sang. I can't imagine having not been surrounded by music when we visited family, rode in the car, went on walks and just around the house. It's a very magical thing that happens when we sing together, a sharing of one heart to another.
I have always loved carols and church music because it usually involves everyone joining in. I’ve never heard anyone in a church ask someone else to stop singing because they sang off-key. I can’t imagine Jesus, or any other of the important religious figures, would ask that someone not join in this joyous expression. I have a friend who goes to a church every Christmas Eve for the pomp and circumstance and the music. I have too many old issues around church to do that myself, but I get it! When I gave up Christmas and started celebrating the Winter Solstice, my new traditions included singing together around lit candles.
In this cold, dark snowy winter we’re having in the Northeast, I hope everyone is planning to sing together with your community. It’s really a very beautiful thing. I’ve always told anyone who says they can’t sing, “Of course you can. If you can talk, you can sing.” If we’re going to a performance, we certainly should expect a certain amount of expertise. But if we’re in a casual, social setting than I think anything goes when it comes to sharing music.
For many years, I ran a weekly then monthly music jam at my house in the Southend of Albany, NY. I began because I was just learning to play guitar and mandolin and knew that the best way to learn was to jump into the fire and start jamming. The folks who were just starting out often stayed toward the back of the room while the better players moved in closer. We had people of ages playing all types of music, and everyone was accepting and without expectations. The newer players kept getting better and better until they finally felt confident enough to move closer and play louder. I always insisted in going around the circle with everyone picking a song when it was their turn. For someone new, they got one chance to pass. This was an important part of the event because it helped boost confidence in the timider players and stopped the more aggressive players from “stealing the show.” Eventually, I moved out of that house and no longer had the large space needed.
I’ve also hosted many Open Mics both on the West Coast and the East Coast. It’s the same theory. You accept everyone regardless of their proficiency and help them develop their skills by providing that all-important space for them to perform. Similar to the jams, a good host has to have rules that they’re willing to enforce while still being encouraging. I always tried to check in with everyone at least twice during the night, when they signed up and after their set. We all want that encouragement and acknowledgement, even the seasoned performers, and we probably all feel a little shy and awkward.
Funny, I thought I was going to write about being a more prolific writer in the winter, but this came out instead. Maybe that will be next week’s blog post.