Folk singer/songwriter John McCutcheon stood up directly across from me. “Everybody stand up and move into the middle, get close enough so that your shoulders touch the shoulders on both sides of you.” He was gesturing to all us, waving us into the middle from our circle of chairs. I invited the folks next to me to move in closer. I’d never seen them before, but we all smiled at one another and did as John asked. I was literally in the middle of my first community singalong.
If I’m totally honest, I have to say that I am not a natural singer. Sure, in my car where no one hears me. Or with my kiddos when they were small because everything mom did was amazingly awesome. But with a group of strangers pressed up next to me? Not likely. But suddenly, it really didn’t matter. John McCutcheon reminded us that there is safety in numbers and gave us a little simple advice: “Sing louder than you think you ought to.”
And we did.
In the basement of the Presbyterian church on Second Street, we raised our voices in song and it was magical. I’ve heard Amazing Grace countless times, but I’d never heard it like this. The only instruments were our voices, some baritone, some hesitant, but all blended and beautiful and smiling.
McCutcheon came to Harrisburg courtesy of the Susquehanna Folk Music Society. They had applied for a grant to investigate the power of the voice in song. McCutcheon was part of that plan, and his singalong was peppered with stories of civil rights, American history and how times have changed. He reminded us that while we might not remember the speech, we usually remembered the music of an era. With his guitar on his lap, he led the group in We Shall Overcome and Well May the World Go.
And after warbling through my first singalong, I’m anxious to do it again. To feel the camaraderie with strangers. To keep smiling because I can’t stop. To sing because it makes me feel happy and part of something positive. So, I’m adding my voice to that of folk musician John McCutcheon.
Sing! If there’s a singalong in your community, go. If you’re in a church, join the choir. Sing with your family. It’s another way to connect with family. With your community. With strangers. With people.
Just try it. Even if you’re like me and have trouble carrying a tune in a bucket with both hands, try it. It isn’t about the talent. It’s about the community and the sharing and your life will be better for it. I promise. Not sure how to get started? Try searching for a folk music organization in your area. It’s a good place to start and you might be surprised at what they have to offer.
Now, go sing your heart out!