It happened like this:
The girls were in the two back seats of the car. The tunes were cranked up ear-split loud, to the max, because that’s how we roll.
“Let’s sing it, girls! Let me hear ya,” I cheered. And so we all found a part to sing, a trio of one mother and two daughters. This was our little way of raising the roof of the world a half-centimeter higher.
We kinda rocked it.
Anna took the melody, while Lydia and I slid around the notes to find the harmony. I couldn’t squint my eyes as much as I would have liked, because I was driving. You never know what you might encounter out here on the country roads of Iowa. One has to be cautious.
But despite the threat of livestock on the thoroughfare, I did keep the beat with a subtle Mama Head Bob.
And when we were really on our game, the girls and I had three different parts going. I could feel the chords inside of me, and it felt like a tuning fork. It rattled me good.
We kept getting our groove on, one song after another. The playlist included: “Jar of Hearts” (don’t judge) and “Joy to the World” (even though it’s February), and more.
It’s impossible for me to overstate how much I love singing harmony with my loves.
It’s impossible for me to exaggerate how magical and transcendent it all feels, to sing at the top of my lungs with my people.
For me, singing in harmony is this great unifier — every part of everybody is working together to make a song.
It doesn’t matter that the girls were squabbling earlier, or that I was the World’s Worst Mom an hour ago because I enforce curfews and seat belts. Because now we are singing. We are making music together. It’s beautiful.
And for a while, we forget about the junk that makes us feel so messy inside. We forget about Anna’s math test, and Lydia’s basketball game, and All Things Junior High. I forget about the blur of loneliness that I sometimes feel.
When the music is on, I belong to the people making the song with me. And it is enough. Music speaks everything that words cannot. But it’s more than just the music. It’s the making of music together, in multiple parts.
How can I describe this to you? I feel at a loss. Maybe we can sing together sometime? Am I making any sense?
I’m thinking about all of this now, because I turned 43 years old on Monday. On the morning of my birthday, I looked back on my life, and I was thinking how some of my happiest moments bloomed in the space of a song.
Here it is on the playback. My life:
– Sitting on the wooden pew in the Methodist Church, listening to Mom, Sheryl and Janet sing Gaither songs. I’d hum under my breath with The Trio, trying to find the second soprano part. I was age six.
– Joining the community choir to sing Handel’s Messiah, and feeling a profound sense of satisfaction when the room sounded so full with the color of music. I sang alto. I was twelve, and I tried to hide the awkwardness of my surprising tears.
– Singing in round with my sisters under the stars, and picking parts in The Music Man’s “Pick A Little/Good Night Ladies.” I was fourteen.
– Singing show tunes in the dorm-shower stalls at Iowa State University, at the top of our lungs, with my best friend Carla. We were nineteen.
– Hanging with our best friends, out by a lake, with the moon high overhead, and our eyes pinched tight, while we sang “Dancing Lucinda.” We were grown adults, with children sleeping inside, and we were tremendously loud. (I’ve lost count, how many times we’ve sung that song with those dear people.)
– Standing in a village, in Haiti, with a language barrier. We couldn’t talk, so we made up praise music, and sang in two-part harmony, with dirt under our feet, tin over our heads. I didn’t want it to end, because it made my Haitian friend’s pain momentarily disappear.
– Making a mad dash toward the front of the gym in December at the junior high/high school Christmas concert. The choir director invited anyone who knew the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah to come forward. I practically ran to the front. I still knew the alto. I still felt the tears.
– Reuniting with The Trio — Mom, Sheryl and Janet — a few months ago in Janet’s hospice room. We all found the notes again. We all made harmony with Gaither music. It vibrated the inner tuning fork, and days later, Janet passed away.
Did I tell you yet that I’m not a great singer?
I’m decidedly mediocre. I can carry a tune, and I can find the harmony. But I’m not a great singer, and I’m not trying to be humble here when I tell you that.
But singing makes me crazy happy. I don’t always sing because I’m happy, but I always find happiness when I sing.
I searched around this morning to see if there was some science behind the joy of making music with others. There is.
I came across a story on NPR, “How Singing with Others Changes Your Life.” A behavioral neuroscientist named Daniel Levitin validated what our hearts know:
“… when we sing, it brings us outside ourselves. It forces us to think about what another person is doing. We’ve got to pay attention to what someone else is doing, coordinate our actions with theirs, and it really does pull us out of ourselves. And all of that activates a part of the frontal cortex that’s responsible for how you see yourself in the world, and whether you see yourself as part of a group or alone. And this is a powerful effect.”
Plus, the scientist said, there’s a whole neurochemistry to singing, because it actually releases oxytocin — which creates a sense of well-being and trust toward others.
That makes sense to me. That explains the sacred place that we go when we sing, together, in harmony. It’s the color of hope. It’s the taste of surprising tears.
And it’s the sound of the world’s roof, creaking a half-centimeter higher — lifting up to the beat of your favorite song.
Tell me about a song you like to sing. Can you remember a time when singing felt especially sacred?
A #TellHisStory Announcement
In two weeks (Feb. 17) the #TellHisStory linkup will go live at 4 p.m. (CT), instead of midnight. I needed to make the time change because I’m a terrible procrastinator, and deadlines trick me into getting stuff done. I was spending too many Tuesday nights at the computer writing my post, instead of hanging out with my family. And in doing so, I was missing out on the chance to harmonize, among other things. 🙂
Hey Tell His Story crew! It’s always a joy to gather here every week. You’re welcome to link up below. If you would use the badge on your blog, that would be great. And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! You guys are the best.
Be sure to check the sidebar later this week. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Kelly is last week’s featured writer.