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The Power of Song

Singing.  Everyone does it.  From bathroom to opera house, workplace to nightclub, in tune and out, we are all in there somewhere.  Singing is commonplace, taken for granted, not much considered, yet reassuringly “there”.  Try to tune your radio randomly across the airwaves without picking up some singing somewhere.  Almost impossible.  Moreover, it is the same anywhere in the world.  Yet the very fact that it is so universally popular suggests that singing is rather more than ordinary after all, ordinary with a bit extra – extraordinary, perhaps.

Anthropologists tell us that early primitive rituals served to help define the identity of a people, giving them meaning in the context in which they lived.  These rituals certainly included singing, and little has changed today except the scale of the context.  Singing can lead us to ‘reconnect’ and in so doing serve a very important individual and social purpose, as well as being fun.

It is common to hear good singers say that when they sing well, it is as if they are not really doing the singing; in fact it seems as if they have very little to do with it at all.  They talk abut the song “singing them”, about “letting go” and “releasing”.  We now know that when we sing, we connect directly into the unconscious systems in the body, which move the breathing apparatus and which respond directly to imagination and feeling.  Singing provides a pathway along which the unexpressed can travel into the light of day.

Learning to sing is about learning where your sound is and how to let it out.  To do so we must listen to something inside us that is already there.  The root of the English verb ‘to educate’, lies in the Latin educere, meaning to ‘lead out’, to ‘develop from latent or rudimentary existence’.  This too is about listening and allowing, not imposing and controlling.  The reason the song sings the singers is that the singers allow themselves to be a channel for something that will always produce the unexpected: a sound or interpretation never before considered; and in so doing creates the new.

In the medieval monastic world there appear to have been two traditions of learning.  The Via Positiva, learning through positive action, and the Via Negativa, which involves learning through ‘withdrawal’, through ‘not doing’, through ‘listening’, so that you allow something to emerge from within you by feeling and revelation.

In a recent survey, eighty percent of those questioned said that if they could choose their dream life, they would choose to be a singer.  By any stretch of the imagination this is an extraordinary statistic, so a lot of people are aware of the power of song.  There are obvious things that might come to mind: fame and fortune, being adored, being looked after, travelling, and meeting interesting people.  These are all external things, the results of successful singing rather than singing itself.  So what is it about singing itself that can lead to such longed-for results?

Singing occupies one of the most primitive channels in the brain, running alongside the channel carrying those endorphins that make us feel good.  As you sing your body is literally ‘lifted up’ by the power that enables the singing itself, which is why people refer to really fine singing as ‘uplifting’.  When you are in this state, you start to feel refreshed, because the natural positive flow in the body is ‘up’ rather than ‘down’.  Song is the gateway into the
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