Lift Our Voices!

Singin' in the Rain... Heat... Snow ...

It was just a chance invitation from a friend in an email:

"We're singing on the Town Common Wednesday at 2. Standing far apart. Join in if you’d like.”

I wasn't even sure what the 'we' meant, or what 'we' might be singing. But since we'd all been quarantined for a couple of weeks, it sounded intriguing. And the community chorus that I'd loved being a part of for several years seemed suddenly kaput. So I decided to go have a look, and a listen, and see what this "common sing" was all about.http://www.richie

That was back in mid-March, when the time of COVID was still new, and the weather was chilly. Still, a handful of people showed up, only a couple of whom I knew. And my friend launched into leading a spirited rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons we weren't. And there were no instruments as we got into the fun, campy singing of a '60s tune that sounded so odd in the middle of our newfound isolation:

"You're just too good to be true
Can't take my eyes off of you ...

I love you, baby
And if it's quite alright
I need you, baby
To warm the lonely night ..."

But mostly, the half-dozen or so of us sang a mashuo of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” combined with “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “I’m Gonna Sing, I’m Gonna Dance, Hallelujah,” and whatever other songs popped into our heads. I especially thought our "From a Distance" was an appropriate song to be having fun with across the Common from one another.

But apart from the importance of staying at least six feet apart, and the necessity of seeing and engaging with other people, what popped into our heads that chilly March day was that we should try to do it again. Tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.

Despite valid fears from friends and relatives of danger in singing together in the Time of COVID -- in fact, we heard of a chorus in Washington state whose members became infected after an indoor rehearsal -- we took extreme care that our outdoor circle was limited to no more than a dozen singers, and that physically we remained 10 feet or more apart.

Astonishingly ... and I don't use that word lightly ... we kept meeting day after day. Now, half a grizzly year later, we're about to celebrate the SIX MONTH anniversary of what I believe may truly be the ONLY daily sing in the world that's gone on continuously during this pandemic. Rain. Shine. Snow. Thunderstorm. (Let me admit: I've been a fair-weather singer, and I can't imagine how these gatherings, which have usually drawn between four and 10 singers daily to our triangular Town Common beginning in mid-March, will continue through Nor'easter and blizzard times ahead.

Not quite amazingly, but certainly surprising to me, we've seen few similar grassroots singing gatherings, even though many of the small towns around western Masachusetts and southern Vermont and New Hampshire seem to have a similar makeup of folk music and folk dance enthusiasts for whom participation and creative involvement seems a critical part of life. And in these times of darkened politics, pandemic and climate-related disasters, getting to be outdoors with one another and to raise our voices in song seems an essential way to beat back the blues.

Another surprise has been that we've managed to keep our singing a capella -- without musical accompaniment. (One villager did mention when he approached to hear what we were doing that he might show up with his Stratocaster. Thankfully, he never did.)

Since we're purposely in a very visible location, we've had drive-by honkers or waving in support, or passers-by looking us over as they pedal bicycles or walk around the Common led by their dogs. Some have ventured over, assuring us that it's only to listen, not sing. And we invite them to participate if they'd like.

"If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing," as my song-leader friend Kathy Bullock says to encourage everyone to sing.

In fact, we've had several large families join in, although we're officially limited to townspeople only, to avoid attracting an unsafe number of singers.

Two or three times, we've added to our daily sings with a special full-moon sing, where we've greeted the lunar light rising over the hill with songs about stars, about moonrise, about the heavens, about darkness and light. There's even talk of an Autumnal equinox sing.

"Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light,

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night..."

Even though we have a website where many of our songs, with lyrics, are available, our sings tend to be organic affairs, where we never know who'll show up or what anyone will suggest as our next song. Sometimes it's a Broadway tune or a pop song. Other times, it's a pub song, a hymn, or a pop tune like "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."

My personal favorites are songs that celebrate life, that salute the uniqueness of the place where we're gathered and prevailing rituals and customes, that affirm how lucky we are to be alive, even in this time of turmoil and pandemic.

"Oh, the wind, it is the song that harbours through the winter,

Oh the sail, it is a door that bids the song to enter,

And let us sail the sea, good friends, and sing our song together,

The singer lasts a season long, while the song goes on forever." - Jan Harmon, "Good Friend"

My little town is blessed in having an odd mix of participants for this daily gathering, including a music teacher, a children's song leader, several members of a variety of community, hospice and other choruses, and a pub-song leader who's gifted as a living library of songs for virtually every occasion and subject, from sewers to tractors, from strawberry-rhubarb pie to the days of hard-working Clydesdales.

"Steady boys, walk on; our work is nearly done;
No more we'll till or plow the fields; the horses' day is gone;
An' this will be our last trip home; so steady boys, walk on."

And then for good measure:

"They're good at slowing speeders down when they come in from our of town,

I'll live out in the country happily ever after
I got everything I need cause I got friends with tractors..."

We literally never know when someone's going to launch into Petula Clark's "Downtown," a zany jungle for Rice Krispies or anything else. Yet many of our ditties reflect the rural character of where we live, celebrating seasons, nature and rituals like apple-picking and harvest time. The connection that we feel, with the church bell that sounds from the tower next to the Common as we're singing, or with the hills, is a deep part of the connection that's brought us together, day after day, as we've watched the snow recede, the bear tree limbs leaf out, the grass rejuvenate, and now the leaves begin to fall.

And the coming together in song itself is part of the celebration, as we dedicate ourselves in this time of uncertainty to knowing that the gift that we can truly share is our song.

"Sure as the wind, my people,

And sure as the rain,

Sure as the sun will shine,

We will raise our song again..."


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