It's About Having Fun and Feeling Good
by Julie Paquette
I was born to sing. A day without singing is a day where something is a little off, like these gray days of early winter. Maybe you’ve met me on the street, walking along and singing, and wondered, “What is the matter with that girl? Surely only a crazy person would expose herself in that way.”
Maybe you are a secret singer, someone who loves to sing in the shower or the back yard while pulling weeds. Or you like to crank up the car stereo and sing along to your favourite songs. You, too, are a singer, although your voice is stuck in the closet, whereas mine is out dancing naked in the streets. Am I crazy? Where did all this racket come from? And what is the point of it? Who am I, anyway, and why am I telling you this? I can explain.
I come from a musical family. Mom met dad at the church choir practice, where he was the organist and mom did what she loved best—singing. The daughter of German immigrants who migrated to Canada from Russia, mom came from a large family. Being rather skinny and thus not your ideal wife material for those times, she was pushing thirty with no prospects. It looked like it would be her job to take care of her parents as they aged.
But mom had other ideas. Every day as she milked the cows on the farm, she would sing as she worked, and she prayed that she would find love and have children of her own. As it turned out, that voice and her yearning did connect her with the rich experiences of life that she desired.
Several years and a few babies later, mom and dad welcomed me to this world. The music gene soon came to light, and at the age of 5, I joined the church choir, with special permission from the director. I was thrilled to attend the practices and sing in the Christmas Midnight Mass for the first time.
I was given piano lessons, as well as learning to play by ear. A folk group in my mid-teens got me away from the watchful parental eye and into the local coffee house. Singing in an a capella performing group was fun. Playing piano and singing in a French dance band in New Brunswick was a fantastic challenge. Another great way to pass an evening is attending musical house parties where people take turns sharing songs, and encouraging the others to play and sing along.
In 1990, I was invited to join the Sofa Choir, organized by Katya, a woman with a beautiful voice and a gift for teaching singing. A small group of women would gather at her place and sing together without instruments. Talking was kept to a minimum. Concentration was deep, and the music mesmerizing. The group would become as one living organism deeply breathing together, and any simple tune had the tendency to “go improv”.
At the end of the session, we would feel like we had been on a holiday, totally refreshed and energized, our ears full of beauty and our eyes full of light. I was so hooked! I soon started my own house group, of mixed gender, and those first several months of meeting once a week became the highlight of the week and even our main source of sanity. Singing is a healing activity which is free, requires no equipment, and serves as an anti-depressant with no side effects.
Singing with friends at home is profoundly relaxing. It isn’t a performance, and that makes all the difference. Unfortunately, we have been led to believe that if we can’t sing like a professional, our voices are not good enough to be heard. In my experience, a group of people with average voices singing together makes a great sound. When I have asked people why they are too self-conscious to sing, many of them told me about a well-meaning teacher or choir leader who told them to mouth the words because their voices weren’t good enough. But singing together isn’t about having a perfect voice. It’s about having fun and feeling good.
Unique and amazing sounds appear as we discover our inner music. Like all creative forces, our inner music can be shy and vulnerable, like a scared animal waiting for a safe place before it will come out. We all have this shy animal inside us—it represents the best and most unique part of what we are. It is my desire to encourage and create more safe places for singing.
I have sometimes had to fight for the right to sing. People in the home or at a workplace or public area are sometimes hostile to someone who fills the air with uncalled for music. “What are you so happy about?” is a question I have heard spoken in puzzlement or even anger. But the person who says this has got it backward. I don’t sing because I’m happy, I sing because singing makes me happy, and, like anybody else, I sure do need to feel better some days. The expressive power of singing clears the emotions, and leaves a person feeling lighter.
As the years have passed, my singing friends have come and gone, some to other cities, and others to whatever life may exist beyond this world. But the soulful sound of their voices lingers in my memory and will never die. And there will always be another song.
Julie Paquette is a singer, wife, mother, and tutor, and lives in Saskatoon. For information on starting your own Sofa Choir, she can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.