My mother sang to me when I was an infant in her arms. My father told me so when I was old enough to understand. She played the piano, too, nothing advanced, mind you, mainly church hymns and familiar folk songs, and sometimes she sang along in a soft voice as she played. Surely this was the genesis of my love of music.
As an adult, I have come to realize that from the origins of humankind, people have found a way to express themselves through music. This is true of all kinds of people everywhere. History.com offers this perspective:
“The history of music is as old as humanity itself. Archaeologists have found primitive flutes made of bone and ivory dating back as far as 43,000 years, and it’s likely that many ancient musical styles have been preserved in oral traditions.”
Music was always around in our Baltimore row house. I can recall spending childhood hours playing and replaying a 78 rpm recording of Ethelbert Nevin’s lilting tune “Narcissus” on a wind-up Victrola that had been retired to our basement, having been replaced by an electric record-player. We all sang in one setting or another — Mom at home, Dad in church choir and men’s choruses, my sister and brother in school and later in community groups. My sister Peg sang for several years in a select 90-voice choir of young women that originated at Peabody Conservatory
I joined children’s choir at church as soon as I was old enough and have sung in church choirs ever since. That’s a lot of years. And not just church. My love of singing has led me to barbershop (in both a quartet and internationally competitive chorus), community choruses, a madrigal group, a professional chamber choir, musical theater, light opera, a select 150-voice chorus that specializes in major works with orchestra. These days I find my musical joys singing in two church choirs, one a select a cappella ensemble, and as vocalist with a 17-piece swing band.
As to the origins of singing, Lawrence University shares this: “Singing, the vocal production of musical tones, is so basic to man its origins are long lost in antiquity and predate the development of spoken language. The voice is presumed to be the original musical instrument, and there is no human culture, no matter how remote or isolated, that does not sing. Not only is singing ancient and universal, in primitive cultures it is an important function associated not so much with entertainment or frivolity as with matters vital to the individual, social group, or religion. Primitive man sings to invoke his gods with prayers and incantations, celebrate his rites of passage with chants and songs, and recount his history and heroics with ballads and epics. There are even cultures that regard singing as such an awesome act they have creation myths relating that they were sung into existence.”
As a university student attending a conference in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1963, I found myself with a free evening and spotted an item in The Washington Post promoting a concert of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in D, a towering work that was to be performed by the Cathedral Choral Society and orchestra at the National Cathedral. Armed with directions from the District’s transit company, I made my way there on three buses. This magnificent, uplifting concert still rings in my ears 55 years later. I didn’t know then that I would have the opportunity to sing this great work many years later, in Duke Chapel. What a thrill.
Music has made my life richer than words can express. Once you start singing, your love of it never leaves you. Thanks, Mom.