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Why folk don't sing

Nick 24 Jun 05 - 07:18 PM
GUEST,Liz 24 Jun 05 - 03:31 PM
JennyO 24 Jun 05 - 08:54 AM
Mr Happy 23 Jun 05 - 08:12 PM
GUEST,MMario 23 Jun 05 - 12:15 PM
freightdawg 23 Jun 05 - 11:53 AM
Leadfingers 23 Jun 05 - 11:20 AM
GUEST,leeneia 23 Jun 05 - 10:40 AM
Janie 22 Jun 05 - 09:52 PM
GUEST,Inero 22 Jun 05 - 09:19 PM
shepherdlass 22 Jun 05 - 04:41 PM
GUEST 22 Jun 05 - 04:33 PM
GUEST,V. Moon Joyce 22 Jun 05 - 01:17 PM
Le Scaramouche 22 Jun 05 - 12:07 PM
GUEST,leeneia 22 Jun 05 - 11:40 AM
Kaleea 22 Jun 05 - 06:11 AM
Le Scaramouche 22 Jun 05 - 05:40 AM
PoppaGator 22 Jun 05 - 01:45 AM
GUEST,Victoria Moon Joyce 21 Jun 05 - 10:13 PM
GUEST,Betsy 20 May 05 - 02:48 PM
GUEST,boo 20 May 05 - 12:56 PM
shepherdlass 03 May 05 - 01:48 PM
GUEST 03 May 05 - 10:20 AM
PoppaGator 03 May 05 - 09:15 AM
Liz the Squeak 03 May 05 - 02:32 AM
GUEST,Val 02 May 05 - 05:54 PM
GUEST,PatrickCostello 02 May 05 - 05:22 PM
Ramblingsid 02 May 05 - 04:23 PM
PoppaGator 02 May 05 - 02:01 PM
GUEST,Joe_F 02 May 05 - 09:54 AM
Tannywheeler 02 May 05 - 02:41 AM
dianavan 01 May 05 - 11:25 PM
Kaleea 01 May 05 - 12:00 AM
cobber 30 Apr 05 - 10:43 PM
ranger1 30 Apr 05 - 05:43 PM
Dr WHO 29 Apr 05 - 11:04 PM
Ebbie 29 Apr 05 - 10:33 PM
ranger1 29 Apr 05 - 07:53 PM
GUEST,Joe_F 29 Apr 05 - 11:01 AM
GUEST,DrWHO 28 Apr 05 - 04:36 PM
GUEST,Jim 28 Apr 05 - 12:17 PM
Uncle_DaveO 28 Apr 05 - 11:40 AM
GUEST,Jim 28 Apr 05 - 09:57 AM
black walnut 28 Apr 05 - 08:56 AM
GUEST 28 Apr 05 - 02:00 AM
GUEST 27 Apr 05 - 07:13 PM
LilyFestre 27 Apr 05 - 06:20 PM
Burke 27 Apr 05 - 06:13 PM
GUEST,Skipy 27 Apr 05 - 05:58 PM
Frankham 27 Apr 05 - 05:57 PM
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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Nick
Date: 24 Jun 05 - 07:18 PM


If you sing something that makes everyone else in the room WANT to sing then might that be better?

I say this off the back of last night. I went for a sing in Thirsk (North Yorkshire) at a friend's folk club at the Three Tuns Hotel.

By chance there were Black Umfolosi 5
staying in the hotel on tour. The format Terry has is a two song go round the room singaround and they did their turn and sang WONDERFULLY.

Young and old - blues fan - folkie - young lads who like their rock stuff etc were bowled over. But everyone came away thinking that the coolest think in the world is to sing.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Liz
Date: 24 Jun 05 - 03:31 PM

I love to sing but I don't know what to sing. I'm all signed up for a coffeehouse show tonight full of singers and players but I've been sitting here all day trying to learn songs (old folk stuff like John Barleycorn, which is how I found this page, trying to decipher the lyrics).
So in the spirit of bringing the commodified arts back into the communities from which they were stolen, should I encourage the whole audience to sing along? Should I choose songs that have easy to learn choruses, or ones that people are likely to know?
I feel a bit guilty as someone who cringes at off-key singing... but I'm willing to change.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: JennyO
Date: 24 Jun 05 - 08:54 AM

freightdawg, that was beautiful!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Mr Happy
Date: 23 Jun 05 - 08:12 PM

if u can talk-then u can sin!

its just practice that makes u better, especially sining along with others.

i sin almost every nite & more at weakends!

Sining's the main reason 4 living!!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,MMario
Date: 23 Jun 05 - 12:15 PM

Scaramouche - try some chanties! or some call and response gospel. You can get CD's and sing along with them if you want - or find a gathering that does that type music.

Pauline - I could have sworn I've heard you singing at Getaway. Good G*d, you should be comfortable joining in THERE if nowhere else. With your love of music I don't see how you can resist.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: freightdawg
Date: 23 Jun 05 - 11:53 AM

Patrick, thanks for the hysterical story. Boy, I wish there was a video tape of that performance. I laughed until tears came down my cheeks.

What a wonderful thread. I grew up in a singing household. We sang at church, and once a month or so a group of adults would all get together and sing hymns and spiritual songs. All acapella - just four part harmony with some occassional warbles and "in betweeen" parts. Great stuff. I didn't know it then, but I was being taught in some small way just what it means to be human and to share in a common spirit.

Way back up yonder in the thread a comment was made that you cannot tell what is singing anymore when you buy a commercially produced cd. (I would argue that the same is true with many instrument sounds, as well). That is what is so sad about how "we" as a commercial conglomerate view singing. Can't find a good actor? Who cares? George Lucas can build you one on his computer. Can't find a good guitar player? Who Cares? Some super computer gizmo will create one for you that never misses a beat or hits the wrong fret. Can't sing with picture perfect tone and pitch? Who cares, we'll just tell the computer what we want to hear and out it comes.

But, thankfully, there will always be Bogey and Bacall, there will always be Hitchcock, and there will always be a group of folks on the street corner or in some corner of the basement crooning away. Some will be on key, some will be off key, and some will invent a key of their own. Sometimes there will be an instrument, often times there will not be. But they will be wonderfully happy. And in that brief time there will be the creation of genuine music, the language of the heart.


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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Leadfingers
Date: 23 Jun 05 - 11:20 AM

This is aimed at all the people (Like Le Scaramouche) who say they cant sing ! My Brother couldnt carry a tune in a bucket when we were in our teens - He then married a girl who sang in the church choir . He is now one of the mainstays of same church choir and helps other members sort out their harmonies ! Moral ?? EVERY ONE can sing - Just need a bit of a push from the right person in the right direction .

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 23 Jun 05 - 10:40 AM

Sherherdlass, I hope you're right.

It's true I'm pessimistic. Here's a true story. My husband joined a co-worker and her young daughter (age 7) one Sunday for brunch and a movie. This involved riding together from their house to the restaurant, from the r. to the movie, and from the movie back to their house.

During that period of a 3-4 hours, the mother spoke to the kid only 4 times, never saying anything important or affectionate. Most of the time, the kid was listening to something on headphones. The mother was often on her cell phone.

I gather this is the norm among his co-workers. Aaargh!

Recently I rode 150 miles with a man and his teenage son, and they didn't exchange a single word. Quality time, anyone?
To people who want to sing better -- try singing along with recordings of professional singers (not opera or country) while doing the housework. I think the most characteristic the pro should have is the ability to carry a tune. If you are a bass, sing along with a bass, etc.

Here are some pro's I think would be good for this:

Harry Belafonte
Johnny Mathis
Judy Collins

Sorry I can't think of any more right now. Any suggestions?

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Janie
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 09:52 PM

There are three threads currently active, with mostly different people posting to them, that are really very interwoven. This thread, "Why Folk Don't Sing," the "Songs We're Too Cool to Sing" thread, and the "Best Songs to Get People Singing" thread. They are three different explorations into the meaning of the verb, 'to sing.'

check it out.


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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Inero
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 09:19 PM

Can anyone recommend a song book (words and music) of non-complicated folk songs? Like Le Scaramouche and a few others on this thread I have trouble carrying a tune. But if given the dots, I can first play it on the flute and then hack through it vocally. I must be good; my dogs howl in approval.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: shepherdlass
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 04:41 PM

Leeneia, a lot of what you're saying makes great sense but once again I worry about the pessimism inherent in so many of these posts. There is always a tendency to think our generation was the last to know how to sing - and it's tied into a lack of faith in the young, who are just finding what songs fit their lives in the way we did when we were that age. Personally, I'd like to hear anything as anti-establishment as Anarchy in the UK in the current scene, but it's doubtless being made - I've just lost the map to find it!


1. I'm an ipod addict and I sing all the time, both for fun and - when people are fool enough to pay me - for money. I don't think that you can blame people not wanting to sing on the technological distribution of music. If this was the case, then the folk boom of the 60s - in the midst of cheaper vinyl LPs, multi-tracking, etc - shouldn't have happened.

2. and 5. You have to pick and choose your tunes from contemporary popular music - John Legend's Ordinary People is a prime example of fantastic melody in the pop/R&B genre - what filters through from the past is the stuff that's left when the samey dross is forgotten. Just look through a collection of Victorian parlour ballads if you doubt this.

4. links a little to 3. - some people I know decided that they couldn't sing the day they were turned down for the Sunday School choir!

A former choir soloist who nonetheless gets whupped at karaoke!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 04:33 PM

The BBC has a weekly arts programme on British TV. Every week there is a section devoted to 'popular music'. The other week a succession of youths bellowed incomprehensible words into microphones whilst other youths thrashed electric guitars and drum kits or, occasionally, keyboards. This went on for a bit and then the presenter announced a new, 'breakthrough band'. This time a youth bellowed incomprehensible words into a microphone whilst other youths thrashed... For the life of me, I couldn't discern any difference between the 'breakthroughs' and their predecessors.
The other week I went on holiday to Slovenia. I switched on the TV in my hotel room and witnessed a youth bellowing what may have been English (although largely incomprehensible) words into a microphone whilst other youths...well, you get the picture!
I believe that our (and many other people's) culture has been infected by a sort of plague called 'rock music'. This virulent disease has infected everything and is turning what is left of that culture into a sort of featureless, meaningless, albeit noisy, mush. It's no wonder no one sings any more!!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing - some suggestions
From: GUEST,V. Moon Joyce
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 01:17 PM

Dear Le Scaramouche: though I don't know your particular circumstances, I'm going to take a chance here and suggest the following:

1) Finding a place to sing when you have trouble carrying a melody is very difficult. But there are some places. Community choirs are one site. They often are large enough, strong enough, and inclusive enough to welcome singers like yourself who can usually follow a song if supported by strong singers around you. It's basically the theory of strength in numbers. And while most community choirs have as their goal some performances, most also are able to provide the opportunity for singers with pitch challenges to participate fully.   

I often find that once a group sets its sights on performance, then many group members get all nervous and demanding about "doing it right." Some can get right nasty about it. So, make sure the group you choose is willing to include your 'less-than-perfect' singing voice.

2) recreational singing with friends is another option. Though it may seem awkward at first if you and your friends/family haven't made much music together before, it IS possible to gather and have a terrific time singing as a group just for the hell of it. Anything you can think of to reduce the inhibitions that folks might have (what Frankie Armstrong in the UK calls "disinhibitors" and what I think of as an adequate supply of wine) - go for it. It won't be long before you develop your own repertoire of favourites and you'll be looking forward to those evenings of song without the earlier "disinhibitors".

3) Start with a small and easy repertoire of songs that you REALLY like to sing. Choose material that is very accessible to sing and that everyone knows "by heart" (interesting term, that).    Old songs like "Michael rowed the boat ashore" exist for generations BECAUSE they are great songs and easy to learn and sing.   Avoid complicated songs in the beginning. Build.

4) Another suggestion - sing outdoors alone where you can really let rip and just enjoy the sheer sensual pleasure of your voice pouring out with all you've got. It really is a treat and is just a bumped up version of shower singing.

5) Do what my Mom always did. Sing when you're working with loud power tools, or alone doing repetitive (rhythmic) work.   (My mom was a gorgeous singer, but was silenced in adulthood. To get that story, you'll have to read my dissertation!) Her power tool of choice - okay, maybe not choice - was the vacuum cleaner.

6) You may think you "suck at" singing now, but that's irrelevant. Sing for your own reasons. If you're not sure why you sing, find out why, or find better reasons. It matters - for no other reason that it matters to you. Go for it.

cheers, Moon Joyce

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Le Scaramouche
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 12:07 PM

I'm church-going and sing there, but not really anywhere else because I can't carry a note. Where do I fit in?

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 11:40 AM

My thoughts on why people don't sing (much)

1. There are so many canned things going already: TV, CD's, iPods

2.   Most contemporary music doesn't have any melody. I worked for a year in a store where "great hits" were playing. I can't remember a single song they ever played - they all just droned on.

   How many contemporary hits with a real melody can you name? My answer:

       1. Stairway to Heaven
       2. Can I have this dance for the rest of my life?
       3. umm...

3.   People who sing around the house are often ridiculed if their voices are not perfect. This keeps their voices from improving. I tell them to sing while cleaning up the kitchen. Nobody will stop you then.

4. People think that famous singers are "stars" who were born with "talent". While it's true that heredity has a lot to do with what voice you have, many of the faults that bug people in Point 3 above could be cured.

4.   Non-church-going. Church-going families probably sing more because they're used to the idea that ordinary people sing.

5.   Ugly pop music has been around so long that we now have non-singing parents raising non-singing little ones. Or at least I think so.

If you know young children, do they sing while washing dishes, on long car rides, around a camp fire, at youth-group meetings? We used to sing at these times, although I admit that singing while doing the dishes was a rare phenomenon.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Kaleea
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 06:11 AM

As a choir director, Music educator & private voice teacher & coach for many years, I have found many people had an event in their youth where they were put down openly by others, often a teacher or older sibling. Then there are those who need to be in the middle of strong singers.
Some folks just can sing melody only, and not harmony. I once had a small group of people from which to make a "choir." One guy could not find the bass notes to save his life. But, he was terrific & on the melody, so I made the 2 or 3 guys the melody singers, & the gals were singing alto & tenor to make a nice 3 pt harmony.
   Once a fellow came to me for private lessons at the suggestion of the folks who danced at the square dances which he called. He could not match pitch. Not at all! He was quite serious about learning to sing. I had him come twice a week for about a year, as we worked at finding pitches & learning intervals. He was eventually able to sing simple melodies similar to "Skip to my Lou," and other dance tunes as he called the dances.
   I wouldn't have put money on it before, but I learned that if the true desire is there, and an educator is willing to be flexible, anything is possible to those who believe.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Le Scaramouche
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 05:40 AM

I don't sing because I suck at it. Simple as that.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: PoppaGator
Date: 22 Jun 05 - 01:45 AM

Glad to see that Victoria Moon Joyce wasn't offended by any of the criticism, and that she enjoyed our discussion. I certainly enjoyed her essay, which kicked this whole thing off.

And I'm really glad to see this thread get resurrected ~ I just re-read the whole thing!

Many eloquent contributions, on a topic very near to all our hearts, and well worth a return visit...

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Victoria Moon Joyce
Date: 21 Jun 05 - 10:13 PM

Love the thread! Sorry about the wordy language - my original article was for an academic conference. But clearly, folks obviously figured out what I was on about ;) At least you've given me a good laugh and I take your criticisms of my writing style with kindness and appreciation.

The question of non-singing continues to be an issue and I'd love to hear more stories. I am deeply moved by what many have detailed here from their own lives.    Keep talking out there.

If I may add to the thread...
My friend and colleague Louise Pascale has helped me understand more about how 'singers' and 'non-singers' become divided as categories. She notes that we need to always bear in mind WHY it is that we choose to sing. Singing gives us so much and fulfills so many purposes in our lives and in the context of our humanness - as someone on this thread so eloquently put it.

Categories are not helpful - we don't need to be 'singers' to sing. But for many, we need the invitation, a safe enough space, and sometmes,the generous-hearted support to begin singing or to develop our singing. That's partly the point I was trying to make - we need to extend such invitations, create such spaces, and be the supporting friends... As Michele George of Toronto states: "We have to make singing irresistible."

As for the person who noted that anyone can sing if they get drunk enough. I couldn't agree more. Maybe I'll just go and have that beer right now!

Cheers, Moon Joyce Fredricton, New Brunswick

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Betsy
Date: 20 May 05 - 02:48 PM

It's all a matter for the performer - they've got to make the audience feel comfortable about joining in - and be careful, as this simple act can be overdone if one treats the audience like children and therefore have the opposite of the desired efffect.
It's a knack like anything else we do, but, I put it down (loosely ) to coaxing intelligent people but remember to speak the bits beforehand which you want them to join in and give them some friendly patter, - don't assume just because everyone knew the chorus in a club last night that the club tonight automatically knows it.
So appeal to them gently " For those who don't know the chorus here's how it goes " and those who DO already know it can feel ..............hmm .......what's the word........will "content" do ?

All the best

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,boo
Date: 20 May 05 - 12:56 PM

me gesy and boo like it

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: shepherdlass
Date: 03 May 05 - 01:48 PM

But people DO sing - at football games, at karaoke bars, along to the stereo while driving, and yes, when drunk. Perhaps most of this is unselfconscious and not considered "being a singer", but, in the pubs where acknowledged traditional singers like Harry Cox could hold sway, did the people who joined in on the choruses consider themselves singers? Maybe there's a problem of definition here. Most people without disabilities can and occasionally do run but it takes a particular level of enthusiasm and expertise to class yourself as "a runner". That doesn't mean that running as a sport is dying out.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
Date: 03 May 05 - 10:20 AM

When I was in college decades ago, a friend of mine interrupted the rock background to urge someone to sing "Brennan on the Moor." Most of the guests seemed stunned that somebody was actually singing live and for free, unaccompanied, a song they'd never heard of with a catchy tune, an interesting story, and a rousing chorus. The singer was roundly congratualted.

That's the only time I can remember a singer performing essentially solo at a nonmusical party.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: PoppaGator
Date: 03 May 05 - 09:15 AM

Well, it was an academic paper, obviously, intended for an academic audience. The more big words the better.

Patrick ~ GREAT story!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 03 May 05 - 02:32 AM

Sort of makes you wonder just exactly who her target audience were... sure wasn't the General Public!


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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Val
Date: 02 May 05 - 05:54 PM

(sorry about not replying sooner)
ElwynnMaxon said: "...I must agree that it is a bit wordy and long winded. ...If something is written as to be unclear without deciphering it, what was the point? "

Choosing how to phrase particular information is like choosing the play list for a performance. The skilled writer/performer tailors the offering to the intended audience.

The original author that was quoted apperently thought the best way to reach her target audience was to write in that wordy (one might say pedantic?) style. It was not written for Mudcatters - just like a Brittney Spears concert is not aimed at 'Catters (for which I am quite grateful!)

Hope it worked for her with her target audience to convince them of the problem. Unfortunately, WE aren't the ones that need convincing.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,PatrickCostello
Date: 02 May 05 - 05:22 PM

Back when I was in first grade a teacher actually made me sing in public as a punishment.

It all happened because of my dad. We were watching Name That Tune (this was back in the 70's) and during the 'stump the band" segment of the show somebody challenged the band to play a song called Granny's In The Cellar.

The band didn't know the song so the girl from the audience sang the tune and won the prize.

When my dad hear the song he just about went crazy.
It went like this:

Granny's in the cellar,
Gee can't you smell her
Cooking flap-jacks on the dirty stove?
In her eye there is some matter
And it's dripping in the batter
And she whistles as the (snort) runs down her nose.

Now, when the "snort" comes in you do just that: give a good old-fashioned phlegm-gargling snort. The grosser the better.

For days after that my father would start singing Granny's In The Cellar at the drop of a hat. He sang that verse so many times that it lost all of it's effect as comedy and sort of became a household ritual.

Now back then I was going to a Catholic elementary school and our teacher was this evil old nun who hated kids. Things always got pretty boring so one day before class I decided to teach the other kids this cool little song that my dad was singing all of the time.

So Sister Mary Mikofmagniesa walks into class and we're all kicking back singing Granny's In The Cellar and laughing hysterically every time we got around to the snort. We clammed up as soon as the nun came into the room, but the heartless old bat dragged me in front of the class and said that if I liked singing so much I could spend the rest of the day entertaining the class. I was told to stand in front of the class and sing the song over and over again until she told me to stop.

I guess the old fool thought this was supposed to be a punishment of some sort, but I had a ball. I sang Granny's In The Cellar over and over again and went to great lengths to make the snort as effective as I could every time it came around.

After a while I got bored so I switched over to one of the songs my grandfather sang all of the time (this one wasn't exactly politically correct):
(to the tune of Harrigan)

H! A! Double R I!
My cat pissed in your cat's eye!
Proud of all the Irish that is in me,
I can lick a Chinee or a Guinea!
H! A! Double R I G - A - N you see
It's a name that no shame has ever been connected
Harrigan, that's me!

The kids in the class were going nuts by now so I went into some of the other songs my grandfather used to sing/howl as we drove around in his Dodge Dart. Then I'd go back into Granny's In The Cellar again.

When the nun realized that her "punishment" was turning out to be a lot of fun she went and got kids from other classes to come over and watch my antics.

By the time lunch was over every kid on our floor was singing Granny's In The Cellar. The nun walked over, slugged me, told me she was going to call my parents and ended my performance.

When I got home I didn't tell my dad what had happened. I figured when he found out what had happened that it was going to be my ass. That night the phone rang and I heard my dad's side of the conversation.

"Oh yeah, that's a great song isn't it? . . . Oh, you didn't like it? . . .
You made him do WHAT? . . . I could have told you that wouldn't have worked. He loves attention! . . . What am I going to do? That's your problem. I'm paying to send him there so you'll control him."

Pop didn't say anything to me about the call, but he did kick back on the couch with me and sang Granny's In The Cellar with me a few times.

The funny part of this story is that today I'm a professional musician. Whenever my father and I play Granny's In The Cellar pop tells the story about the kung-fu nun and how she was responsible for me growing up to be a performer. . .

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Ramblingsid
Date: 02 May 05 - 04:23 PM

Well when I was in primary school I sang - and that was because it was a small village school and everybody did everything. Singing was not a problem.

Then at age 11 I went to the Grammar School in the nearby town. There not everybody got to sing and the rather unpleasant music teacher held a sort of public audition for the choir. Those that he did not want were rather peremptorily told to shut up and no interest was shown in them thereafter. I think it is true to say that I have not sung in public since that day.

In my head I know its silly not to join in with everybody around me - but something hold me back.

I am a great admirer of Roy Bailey - but every time I go to see him I know that my enjoyment will be undermined by the fact that part of his routine involves making fun of those in the audience that don't join in. Making fun of me in fact. It always strikes me as rather insulting.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: PoppaGator
Date: 02 May 05 - 02:01 PM

Ah Louie Lou-eye
O-oh No
Me gotta go

Audience participation in a concert setting may not be quite the same as joining a choir or participating in a song circle, but it can be a great opportunity to sing wholeheartedly, at full volume, with a large number of fellow enthusiasts.

And whether "Louie Louie" can be characterized as "folk music" is problematic, to say the least. Certainly, back in the 60s during the folk boom (or, if you will, "folk scare"), I would have offered the opinion that it epitomized everything that true folk music is NOT ~ it's a rock 'n' roll record made by a singer who didn't bother to learn the lyrics. However, it IS a song with a chorus that just about everyone knows how to sing, and my current opinion is that it certainly is folk music, at least for the community of folk among whom I live.

That said, I just want to report how absolutely wonderful it was to sing along with Toots Hibbert and the Maytals at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Saturday afternoon. Toots is quite a song leader ~ almost a sort of Rastfarian Pete Seeger ~ and he got a large and remarkably talented "congregation" to sing some fairly complex responses, harmonies and counterpoints on any number of songs, including his own band's classics ("Pressure Drop," "Funky Kingston," "True Love is Hard To Find," etc., and of course "Country Roads"). But the most successful and most transcendant instance of group singing came on that old garage-band chestnut "Louie Louie." I thought I was about to levitate ~ Ai-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!

Jazzfest management introduced a new feature last year, live CDs of festival performances available onsite within a hour or so of the end of each selected set and also (later) via the Internet. I can't vouch for the sound quality of any of these recordings, but friends who bought the 2-CD-set of last week's Meters Reunion gig tell me the sound on that recording, anyway, is great. The Toots & the Maytals CD may or not prove to be a masterpiece of audio engineering, but I can promise you that it showcases one of the finest bits of mass audience singing ever heard, even here in the town once described (by Smokey Robinson, no less) as "the world's capitol of audience participation."

Well, maybe the magic of the moment will come through, to some extent, on the CD ~ or maybe you just "had to be there." I'm not making any promises, but I figure some of you might be interested in this source of live recordings (if not Toots, maybe another selection).

For a complete list of the 2005 and 2004 NOJHF performances recorded and available on CD:

JazzFest LIVE CD order form

(Toots & the Maytals, Congo Square Stage, Saturday 4/30, is #7 on the list.)

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Joe_F
Date: 02 May 05 - 09:54 AM

For the effects on singing in Jean Ritchie's family of the arrival of radio in the '20s, read the last chapter of her _Singing Family of the Cumberlands_. Hell, read that whole wonderful book if you haven't already. I was delighted to see, at a concert of hers the other day, that it is still in print.

--- Joe Fineman

||: Because of the market, what is overrated is overpriced. Because of foolishness, what is overpriced is overrated. :||

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Tannywheeler
Date: 02 May 05 - 02:41 AM

Intellectualizing and mass marketing and no privacy -- this has been an interesting thread.
About 20 years ago Mike Seeger did a show in Austin, Texas, with the cooperation of the trad. music group I belonged to. I got to go to the afterparty, where I chatted with Mike a bit, he having worked with my mother for a time. In the conversational group we were in the subject of "Keep On The Sunny Side" came up. I muttered and tried to back out of the group, but Mike stopped me. I explained that I had heard about that song all my life, but had heard the song itself (maybe) only once. There was a moment of stunned silence and Seeger made a remark about that deficiency being remedied forthwith. I became the center of a circle of musicians, and we sang that song for 20 minutes -- twenty. It was hard to sing because of the omniphonic harmonies whirling around me -- but it was harder NOT to sing because the pressure of the music forced my mouth open and my vocal chords to vibrate. Learn by doing.    Tw

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: dianavan
Date: 01 May 05 - 11:25 PM

Singing and dancing is part of being human.

I learned that in Ireland many years ago. I was travelling when a busker asked me to provide some back up. "I can't sing!", I protested.

"You're a human being aren't you?" he asked.

It was beyond his comprehension that I actually believed I could not sing. He taught me that singing and dancing was an expression of the human spirit. I will always love him for that.

Singing liberates me from the mundane chores of daily life. It connects me to humanity. It lifts my spirit. I sing when I am full of joy or when I am sad. It is a way to express my emotion.

Once I had to ride in an open boat in rough seas with a burned baby in my arms. It was a very long journey. Afterwards, the skipper told my friends that I sang the whole way over at the top of my lungs - a kind of Japanese song that came from the depths of my soul. I don't remember it and I don't even know where it came from.

I doubt if anybody would ever pay to hear me sing but that doesn't stop me. Its part of being human. Dancing is like that too.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Kaleea
Date: 01 May 05 - 12:00 AM

Music Educators have been running away screaming for many years now. I know because that's what I did. The administration did not want me to teach Music, Educate the students, or any such facimile. They wanted someone to "just keep the kids singing & use lots of hand motions so they don't hit each other much." That is a direct quote from a principal. I was told to not push instrumental Music as it was a costly program which they were trying to phase out. They wanted a babysitter who would not expect anything of the students. They wanted the babysitter to not complain that the Music books were over 15 years old. Never mind that the law said they couldn't be more than 10 years old. The parents expected that the babysitter would autimatically write "A" on every grade card because their precious offspring are so perfect. I decided I had had it when a principal told me & the 3rd grade teacher that if we suspected any kind of neglect or abuse to a specific 3rd grader who showed up after a long absence with burns & bruises over half her body, we were not to report anything because the school system could not afford "any more lawsuits."
    Music educators are no longer taught how to teach pitch to the children. In our technological society, we use listening devices with headsets for individuals. The kids listen to noise which has no melody. Pianos are becoming rare in most homes. When they are there, they are rarely in tune. Singing is no longer a common pass-time in families or when kids gather together. Many churches in the USA do have choirs, but the majority are small churches which do not pay their Musicians, and the Musicians are usually amateurs.
   The local school system has decided that they will no longer begin instrumental Music in the 4th (strings) or 5th grade, but will put it off for 2 years, thus saving lots of money. Never mind that kids who study Music are smarter over all--this has been documented. This is what the so called "Mozart Effect" is all about. Between cutting the arts out of the schools, using electronic devices instead of real acoustic instruments-which must be tuned & thus develops the "ear" to learn good pitch, lowering our standards of "education" & teaching kids that Educated Musicians have little or no value in our society, instead they should value the people who are rich from making hit CDs while the performers have little or no Music training.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: cobber
Date: 30 Apr 05 - 10:43 PM

Back in the sixties when we started Cobbers, here in Australia, everyone sang all the choruses. If they didn't they were encouraged or abused until they did. It was an expected part of the show as well as being enjoyable. During the seventies, folk bands became more prevalent than solo performers and they tended to offer more polished presentations of the songs which made it feel a bit intrusive if you joined in. We were as guilty of this as anyone. It wasn't a conscious effort to exclude the audience, it just happened. One of the major factors (in my opinion) was that the songs became faster and I've experimented a bit with this over the last few years. My observation is that if you want people to sing along with you, slow down so thay can keep up. As for those who say they can't sing, well neither can a lot of people who make their living by it. When we were recording, there were often people who couldn't hold a tune particularly well in the band but when you added them into the mix they gave the choruses a richness of texture that wasn't there without them. In some songs where we were trying to emulate a bunch of shearers around a camp fire or something similar this could be really brought up and fitted well but even in songs which were more melodic, so to speak, those extra voices added something special to the sound.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: ranger1
Date: 30 Apr 05 - 05:43 PM

Of course they were happy songs! It's hard to get a good working rhythm going if you sing sad ones. The two that kept cropping up were "The Rolling Hills of the Border" and "Willie's Gang to Melville Castle." Might try some shanties next time.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Dr WHO
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 11:04 PM

Singing on mountain trails is another of my favorite pastimes. But obviously "Ebbie" heard someone else if it "Sounded pretty good..." I have descended many a trail in bad weather, with one or more of my young (at the time) daughters close to panic, until I started singing. (Now before you think it, that did NOT make them really panic!)

One of the categories of groups that I would like to hear from is the group of students: collegiates, fraternity/sorority types, final/eating clubs, secret societies, etc. When I was in college, I certainly picked up some of my bad habits, singing-wise that is, from my club. Is there anyone else out there who learned to sing in public within the confines of a social organization, totally unrelated to music/singing in its purposes, at school?

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Ebbie
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 10:33 PM

What songs did you sing, ranger1? Not mournful ones, I hope? I love people to sing happy songs as they work.

One time I stopped to rest on a mountain trail. Down below me, many zig zags back, I heard someone singing a song in full voice. Sounded pretty good, so I waited until he and his companion hove into view and then I said, Good song! He said, Just keeping the bears away- and broke back into song as they passed on by.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: ranger1
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 07:53 PM

OK, it happened today. While raking the parking lots (don't ask, it's a park ranger thing), I all of a sudden found myself singing out loud. And there were onlookers besides the wildlife. Not sure what they thought, don't really care. I was enjoying myself and it made a tedious job go a lot faster.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Joe_F
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 11:01 AM

Thanks very much, DrWHO, for your recommendation of the Boston Hash House Harriers, whose Web site I have found. I can use the exercise, too.

In my earlier Boston incarnation, ca. 1960, somewhat similar conviviality (with less emphasis on bawdry) was provided by the MIT Outing Club, which had parties at which singing took place (most of them, conveniently, in the rooming house in Cambridge where I lived). In addition to the usual folk instruments we had an oldfashioned pump organ powered by a vacuum cleaner in the closet. (MITOC even had its own songbook.) Climbers, in those days, were another subculture that sang spontaneously. Many of the songs collected by Messrs Edwards & Kelley in _The Coffee House Songbook_ are annotated as having been learned, not in coffee houses, but in climbers' camps. I remember a wonderful party in Kingston, NY, in the late '60s, mostly rockclimbers, with two kegs of beer and a barrel of chocolate-chip cookies, in which a little knot of people in the middle of the room sang "Crusher Bailey" for quite a long while.

--- Joe Fineman

||: Be inobviously tuitive. ||

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 04:36 PM

I have been lurking around this site for a few years for my own evil purposes, but felt inspired finally to make a comment.

Being a spectator as opposed to a participant seems the crux of the matter to me. Voyeurism, mandatory self-effacement, passivity, etc. are far more socially acceptable than banging one's own drum loudly(unless it can be done at a professional level). There are groups who actively, even agressively ignore the societal norms, and are only to happy to "make a spectacle" of themselves.

My interest in this site lies in my interest in Rugby/Hash songs, particularly in their history. If anyone needs an example of singing in public, join up with a "singing" Hash, or Rugby Club. The hash in particular, is unique in that it is not necessarily a "Boys will be Boys" club. (For "GUEST, Joe F" who mentioned Boston: Try spending an evening with those guys, the women sing the really rude songs often!) My personal group in Rhode Island (RIH3)usually sings 5-10 songs at the Beer Check (in the middle of the woods), 10-15 at the circle at the end, and (once the food is delivered) as many as we can without getting thrown out at the dinner afterwards. None of us are great singers, but we can usually at least end up in the same key. Between the 10-15 regulars, we have a collective repertoire of about 500 songs. (Thanks to this site and others, I have personally introduced 20-30 new ones a year for the last two or three years.)

I know there are other groups, perhaps less athletically oriented, or at least less extreme, out there, singing for the sake of the song, not for the performance. I would be interested in hearing their stories.

On On

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 12:17 PM

Apologies Uncle Dave - didn't want to offend

"JFDI"!! = "Just F****** Do It!!"

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 11:40 AM

Okay, WTHT? That is, "What the hell's that"?

Dave Oesterreich

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 09:57 AM

Folks – adults have serious problems that most kids don't have. It's down to one particular form of paralysis, and it's called INHIBITION. It stops adults having fun in many ways, not least of which is singing, but it also includes other things like taking risks, experimenting, trying new experiences, being afraid of "looking a fool" etc.

Life's too short, and we need to enjoy it while we got it. As John Lennon said "Life's what's happening while you're making plans". This ain't no rehearsal.

When I was 17 I bust a leg playing soccer at school. My schooling took a serious nose-dive as I was 18 weeks out of the system at a critical stage in my "A" levels. No-one brought me any school-work to do whilst I was laid up, but I don't regret that. My Dad bought me a harmonica, and I learnt to play it loud to help me deal with the pain of a compound fracture starting to fix itself. Playing music was a part of my life from that point on. Later on I started playing guitar and then singing along to my favourite records in the early 60's. Eventually I plucked up courage to perform in local folk clubs, and now do regular gigs in local pubs and clubs.

I've lost count of the friends I've made through singing in public. There aren't enough days in the week for me – TV viewing has become a pastime fallback to be avoided on most evenings. TV is bad for you – going out and having fun is good for you. Singing is good for you. Living is good for you. Don't waste any more time. As we say here in Yorkshire "JFDI"!!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: black walnut
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 08:56 AM

Folk don't sing because they hear "perfection" on CDs and radio and television everywhere they turn. They don't have enough empty space in their lives to make them crave to fill it with their own soul's music.

I taught early childhood music for 15 years. In most of my classes the children were young enough to need a grownup (parent or caregiver) to come with them. I knew that if I could grab the attention of the grownup and help them to feel free to sing and dance, the children would be caught up in the energy, and everyone would be singing. It worked. Parents and nannies who never thought they could sing started to sing and dance with their children in class and at home. Often the 'other' parent, the one that was working and couldn't come to class, would catch on too...the domino effect.

Music is a social beast. The more it happens in a group, the more it will enrich the individual. I don't know if that makes any sense, but you can quote it if you like. :-)


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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 02:00 AM

Well sing in the other room then!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 07:13 PM

folk dont sing because the squeezboxes overpower the room with countless repetitions of the same bloody tune and then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then seguee into countless segues of some bloody tune amd then......

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: LilyFestre
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 06:20 PM

I love to home or in the car. I'm not big on singing around anyone besides my family and then it's usually not a conscious thing. If I don't know the words, I make them up or skip 'em all together. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE to sing to the newborn it.


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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Burke
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 06:13 PM

Skipy, the point is, that in cultures where there is a lot of singing there are very few who cannot sing. This is because as children they get a lot more practice with pitch matching. Instead of being told to be quiet & not sing some adult may work with them & help them learn. Young men get help over the adolescent voice change.

If you really cannot sing, it is hard to learn as an adult. Like anything if you really want to, you probably can with help. (This is not to say you should. You might not have the motivation, time, energy, etc. to do it now.) Look at how many of the earlier messages are from people who thought they could not sing & have discovered otherwise.

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: GUEST,Skipy
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 05:58 PM

A lot of you seem to be missing a very simple point here!
Some of don't sing because we simply can't sing!

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Subject: RE: Why folk don't sing
From: Frankham
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 05:57 PM

i believe that singing is one of the most intimate and personl things a person can do and as a result it requires great courage to sing in public.

It says a lot about who you are as a person and reveals things about you that you might not want to share otherwise.

The interesting thing about a song though is that when it connects with the person who sings it, it comes alive and reveals the truth about that person.
When we hear a singer we want to know who the singer is.

I've noticed that those who censure singing in others are usually feeling that they can't sing themselves and don't want others to.

i think this is a very important thread because it goes to the heart of what folk music is. Without a song sung there can be no folk music even if instrumentals are being played, we respond to the singing of those instruments. A musician whether they have a good voice or not is required to sing in order to express the music. Ear training is predicated on singing. It's the speaking of the musical language.

The reasons for a communal inhibition against singing is that it is often besides being too revealing about a person's emotion, a discrediting of emotional expression by an increasingly growing impersonal society. It also is a by-product of spectator sports. We don't see sandlot baseball being played much these days. People would rather sit in front of American Idol or a football game on TV then be out there practicing it themselves.

Society (ours in America in particular) needs to give permission and encouragement to people who like to sing. This is why Pete Seeger is such an important figure in the folk revival. He elicits the voices in his audience and magically has them take part in his music.

I believe we need to become more accepting of all different kinds of voices and not allow prejudices to interfere with the varied vocal qualities. We need to be able to be receptive to the stridency of the outdoor voices of traditional folk music as well as the acceptable voice that has been somewhat trained.
Even opera is an acquired taste.

In the African-American community, singing is a communal experience which may explain the rise of many vocalists in pop music coming from black people.
They don't shy away from emotionalism and communication outside of their religious environments. Rap and Do-wop started here on street corners.

In European, African and Asian societies, there doesn't seem to be the same constraints that we find here in America. Maybe it's because there is a connection between a definable musical culture and the people that is often obscured in America.

In the Irish, Welsh and other Celtic cultures and , singing is revered as an expression of nationalism as well as personal. So in America, we squelch communal singing by offering our national anthem which is a convoluted English drinking song, Anachreon in Heaven, which was to become the Star Spangled Banner that defies the vocal range of almost everyone. Thank goodness for American the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land. Even God Bless America (although it has a stigma that I believe is underserved since Irving Berlin is one of our very best songwriters).

We must encourage people to sing whether they have trained voices or not.
In order to do this, we have to allow people to express their deeply felt personal emotions without censoring them.


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