There are a thousand songs I know and never sing. Many of them I learned when I was very young – so young I don’t even know where I learned them. The assumption is that they are genetic material, right next to the gene that houses my eye color and my predilection for large amounts of Heath bars.
Bu, of course, that’s not true. And there’s no reason a kid will know “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, or “Do You Know the Muffin Man” – someone had to sing those songs to the kid – probably at least seven or eight times, and they had to sing it themselves.
We kind of figure that will just happen, but I’m not so sure.
I was at workshop of librarians recently and one of them said that she had visited ten pre-schools, and there was no singing in any of them. I would like to believe that the parents were taking care of the singing, but, um, that is a generous assumption. Most people don’t sing – they leave it to the experts (if I’m the expert we’re in trouble), and of course, singing isn’t for experts, it’s for humans in general.
How long does it take to lose a song? Jane Jacobs, in one of her last books, Dark Age Ahead, says it only takes one generation to lose part of a culture. If the parents don’t sing, and the pre-school teachers don’t sing, the kid ain’t gonna sing either. The song is gone. It may be in a book, but a song in a book, unsung, is a very sad little piece of information, and not really breathing.
Is something lost if we don’t sing something as simple as those songs we know but don’t sing?
Well, yes, something is lost. First, of course, because singing is part of being human, so not singing is approaching something else entirely, and I don’t want to see that permutation of the gene pool as it devolves. But second, those songs, those melodies, form a part of our common understanding. For sure, there are issues of cultural sensitivity, or white-guy dominance (“London Bridge” may have less value than “De Colores”, if those things are measureable) and we need to expand what we have in common. But those cultural references are important in conversations and community.
Songs we all know, in that way, are building blocks for a community we build. And I’m guessing songs do that better than guidelines for behavior or credos or laws.