Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

A Fish Doesn't Notice the Water

With a good chorus song, somebody can sing a song that you have never heard before in your life but within a minute or two you can be a full participant in the collective music. It helps if there are a few people present who already know the chorus, and it is wonderful if some of those present are experienced chorus song singers who can fill in harmony as the song goes along, but neither of those situations is a prerequisite. Among the Morris crowd I know we are always looking for good chorus songs.

I was reminded Saturday night, though, that the very notion of a chorus song is not a given. From what I have seen on occasion, it seems that the ability to pick up and join in a chorus, or to pick out the pattern of a repeated line that becomes a refrain, is a specific skill. If somebody has never experienced the joys of say, a good drinking song, they don't ncessarily get how to join in.

Yeah, I know, that seems absurd. What about all the girl scout campfires, or elementary school music classes? What about hymns in church? Even people who have never sung dirty songs in a rugby locker room or on a band bus seem to be aware of them, and if they dig really hard in their memories they can probably come up with a playground refrain or two (glory glory halleluia) that they once dove right into, full-voiced and giggling, without benefit of a songbook or a record player or even an instrument.

But, alas, I am forced to conclude that I should not assume that people understand how a chorus song works, and that you don't need to know a song to join in. In fact, this seems to be a specific cultural skill that many do not possess -- which, believe me, was a hard thing for me to realize. I think this is a great sadness and pity.

This is a separate issue from the one that most people don't take pleasure in the singing in the first place, which I also believe to be a culture-bound limitation and a tragic thing in itself. Here I am talking only about the actual ability to pick up a chorus or refrain and join right it.

On Saturday, at bonfire night, there was a bit of good singing in the henhouse/barn when all the Morris dancers were there, and there was even a small crowd of party guests who came to the barn and listened and joined in. This was fun. From my viewpoint people should be happy when something like that happens, but I certainly know that not everybody enjoys this. That's not really what's at issue here.

No, what's at issue is what happened later, after most of the guests had left. My friend Michael had been stuck at work and didn't arrive until folks were leaving, but his friends Jan and Jim where there and the four of us wound up sitting by the enormous fire along with some folks we knew and some folks we didn't. I started singing something, quietly even (yes, I can do that), and Michael joined in. This was sweet and pleasant to us. Then Jan wanted to sing "Thousands or More", so we sang that, a song with a chorus made up of the last two lines of each verse and not hard to pick up. For some reason this annoyed one of the guests on the other side of the fire, who loudly tried to interrupt us by saying, "Sing something I know." I ignored this at first (I was leading the song) but eventually, at the end of a chorus, I said "There's just one more verse" and continued. This caused her and her friends to start complaining that we "were just going to ignore them". I thought this very, very odd, not to mention appallingly rude.

So then we finished and I said, "Well, I'll bet you know You Are My Sunshine" and she started singing this and we joined in and helped her through. I know three verses to that song, but this woman lost interest pretty quickly when there were words she didn't know. Jan said to me afterwards that getting the verses was probably more than she had bargained for.

Anyway, this woman in fact sang very well and clearly wanted to sing. I think her stunning rudeness was a result of frustration on her part (and perhaps an evening of alcohol, although that's just a guess). She wanted to sing and she certainly could sing but she felt excluded from what we were doing (which of course she was not, except by her own self).

As I say, it's a sadness and a pity.
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