It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Sing, sing a song

Aren’t they great? The harmonies! The rhythms! The (squashed in the desks) dancing! It seems clear that this is a school event or choir or club of some sort, and I know we have those here, too, but it got me thinking about singing for the sheer joy of it — because this music, it just bubbles with joy and life.

I am closer to 50 than 40. I sing all the time. So does my husband. But you rarely see children (over the age of maybe five) spontaneously burst into song, even in the privacy of their own homes.

Maybe it’s because my husband and I were raised in churches, and in our generation, in our churches, you sang, you didn’t just sit there and watch the choir do it. (My church, unlike my husband’s, didn’t even have a choir.) Possibly because far fewer people attend church these days, the singing/non-singing divide seems to have a strong generational divide — older people sing, younger people just listen (or at best, maybe, rarely, sing along). Or maybe church attendance has nothing whatever to do with it. But for whatever reason, I see younger people as being far less likely to sing, sing, sing.

Do you agree? Does anyone else find it sad that North American kids hardly ever sing for fun?

August 3, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,


  1. No Way!

    I’m 24 (hardly a ki, I reckon) and since I was a kid, I love to sing. I sing in the car, I sing in the shower, I sing while I’m doing chores… And I’m no great voice, mind you!

    My best friend (who does have a great voice) is the same way, and we love to sing together at the top of our lungs in the car.

    Ditto to lots of other friends on lots of other nights – perfect memories, a CD, an empty road…

    I don’t know, we sure do sing here in North Carolina.

    You know what? This is a subject on which I’d be pleased to be wrong!

    Comment by Dallas Blue | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  2. Maybe it’s because music class is often presented as a chore. At least it was for me, until high school choir, that is.

    My daughters’ school teaches 60s protest songs and free to be you and me kind of stuff. They love singing (and girl scout camp, they sing and sing there).

    Oh, protest songs are fun! I remember my grandfather singing a rather rude one about “Shifting Daddy’s Bones to Build a Sewer”. I loved it. (Can still sing large chunks of it… possibly (she hums a bit)… the whole thing, still.) Hee.

    Comment by bridgett | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  3. I see kids singing all the time in my neighborhood! All ages, all genders, all sexes. My daughter attends toddler music classes that are HARD to get into because they are so popular with everyone. Our local school has teachers who sing regularly with their students. I pass by teens and tweens singing spontaneously on the sidewalk and then bursting into giggles. I do live in an area in Brooklyn that’s home to at least 10 burgeoning kid rock groups, so maybe it’s just my neighborhood. Or maybe the problem is just a side effect of living in the suburbs, where people don’t interact as much? Then again, I grew up singing myself, to records, with my sister and mother, while playing piano and guitar, and we lived in the middle of the woods without any neighbors. We sang at the top of our lungs because nobody was around to hear us!

    The toddler music classes don’t surprise me at all. They seem to be very popular wherever, but then, I wasn’t thinking about classes. I don’t live in the suburbs, so it isn’t that, at least not where I live. But I do think it has a lot to do with self-consciousness… self-consciousness that arises from living in a culture where people don’t tend to sing, so it’s an oddity.

    Comment by Kiera | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  4. I see/hear kids spontaneously sing all the time–in the grocery store aisles, outside, and at the school where I teach. When I’m at school after hours, I hear them in the back yards that are adjacent to the school yards. Of course, here in L.A., many of them think they’re going to be discovered and be the next American Idol, so it might be more “look at me” syndrome for some of them than fun.

    I’ve seen the ‘look at me’ singing a time or two, though not often. I’m glad to read anecdotes that prove it isn’t a continent-wide phenomena, but it still makes me sad to be living where it does seem to be an issue!

    Comment by Cheryl | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  5. BTW, I was a voice major at a CA University in the 80’s. Friends in the department often mentioned the fact that almost all of our music majors had grown up singing in church. And I have also noticed that a lot of churches here in the U.S. have more of a “lets watch the worship team sing” mentality than a participatory mentality. Sad.

    That is sad. Worship is supposed to be shared, and music is such a good medium for sharing it!

    Comment by Cheryl | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  6. My kids (boys 10 and 13) will sing along to their iPods or randomly sing some song in the car. I often catch the 13 yo singing or humming some song while reading – how he can do that I don’t know, but I’ve caught him singing Fiddler on the Roof while reading manga – quite an interesting juxtaposition.

    Also Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts sing a lot at events.

    BTW, our church has a choir, but it is definitely an audience participation event for all but the song during communion.

    Singing along to music isn’t what I had in mind, nor organized singing at events, but I’m glad to hear your young teen sings while reading. That spontaneous, child-generated song was precisely what I was thinking about. (And I agree with your response. I’m not sure I could do that… Though I could, at that age, read while playing scales on the piano!)

    Comment by Katherine | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  7. I agree, Mary! Kids just don’t sing as much as I remember. I also think it is part of a “church” upbringing. I come from a very religious background, and we SANG. I took piano lessons (in order to be a better minister’s wife!) and was in the church school choir and band. The one thing I truly miss from going to church is the singing.

    Me, too!

    At our house, we sing all the time. Hubby loves music, and between the two of us we listen to everything under the sun. Our kids sing… all day long! We even make our friends sing and play the “sing star” playstation game with us. Once they get started, they love it!

    I’ll burst out with a line from a song if it reminds me of something I’m seeing or doing, as does my husband. Earlier today, I was crossing the street to a neighbour’s house, and someone wolf-whistled at me. I looked, and it was (as I expected) my husband, returning from walking the dog. “I thought it had to be you!” I called, to which he responded, in his nice tenor, “It had to be yooooou…”

    Love that man. πŸ™‚

    Comment by Tammy | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  8. I went to Africa in June, and I was so surprised by how many times we were greeted with song – at the villages, at churches, at schools, etc. They were so great! I wished our students could have sung in return, but the kids just didn’t know very many songs to sing. So sad, right? I miss singing for the pure joy of it, which my friends and I used to do in college when we were in an a cappella group.

    And now I’m going to be singing, “Sing… Sing a song…” all day. πŸ™‚

    So you’ve seen first-hand that cultural difference I’m noting. Had you known that was going to happen, you could have prepared the kids with a song or two… but the fact that they didn’t have songs at their fingertips kind of proves my point, I think.

    Comment by Lara | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  9. Not sure about North America, but there’s not much singing going on in Belgium. Except for in this house. I’m in a choir, my son’s in a choir, my daughter will be in one. And I kind of push my husband to teach them nursery rhymes and traditional British/Scottish songs. My daughter is twenty months old and knows several songs and sings them on her own. We LOVE to sing.

    Oh, nursery rhymes! Forgot to mention them, but I love them! All my daycare tots know at least a half-a-dozen before they leave my care, though they’ll have been exposed to many more.

    The way you describe your home vs your society is how I see mine, too: a little bastion of musicality in a sea of non-singers. Unfortunately, once my kids started school (age 9 or 10 for this home-schooling mom), they stopped singing nearly so much. Damn that whole ‘peer pressure’ thing…

    Comment by Mwa | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  10. I think there might be a lot of family influence. My father sang to me a lot when I was little and all 3 of us kids sang spontaneously (I was really into belting out a few tunes on the swings), joined choirs, etc. When I was 16 I remember friends saying they were amazed at the sheer number of songs I knew.

    My sister has made a point of singing to her children nightly, and her husband joined her in that. So those kids do spontaneous bits of song. I do too when I’m around them, and words relevant to whatever we are doing tend to get set to snatches of whatever song crosses my mind and sung with enthusiasm.

    I picked up friends in college who were also song-oriented, with the result that we’d sing together when hiking or on road trips. Recently I saw a comment by a Tokyo resident on karaoke that there’s nothing quite like belting out a few tunes with all your might to really cleanse your mood. I think they’re on to something with that one.

    I have a friend who goes to karaoke every Tuesday night, she and her husband both. I can hardly wait until their kids are old enough to go to the bar with them. πŸ™‚

    I think you’re right about the family influence… except it doesn’t seemed to have worked with my kids. My youngest daughter sings in her room, but the older two? I can’t recall the last time I heard my eldest sing… but it turns out my son (he’s 20), who I have not heard sing a note since he was seven, probably, has developed a karoake habit with his friends! So perhaps they’re just late musical bloomers?

    Comment by Helen Huntingdon | August 4, 2009 | Reply

  11. Sophie sings all.the.time. Spontaneously, as part of play, while she’s cleaning her room, in the car…you name it, that girl sings.

    And I’m happier for it!

    Isn’t it lovely? And is she the one-and-only constant singer amongst her friends, or do they all do it?

    Comment by Candace | August 5, 2009 | Reply

  12. One of the things I loved about my summer camp was that we had a song for EVERY conceivable occasion. A song if you were stuck in the infirmary, a song if you were leaving on a canoe trip, or coming back from a canoe trip, or if dinner was good, for grace, for bedtime, for group solidarity, to welcome back old campers … it was marvelous. And I remember every one.

    I’m sure there were campers that weren’t ‘good’ at singing, or wouldn’t normally say they enjoyed singing, but everyone sang.

    Group singing is such fun! I have very happy memories of a conference I went to in university, and the choirmaster asked for volunteers for a pick-up choir. Two thousand people showed up. It was FABULOUS.

    Comment by Jaimie | August 6, 2009 | Reply

  13. Could it possibly be becuase most children are consistantly asked to “Be quiet” and sit still?

    It’s an appealing theory, but if that were true, children wouldn’t run around screaming in playgrounds, and teens wouldn’t hoot and holler on the street corner in the evenings…

    Comment by Cole | August 18, 2009 | Reply

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