Sunday, 28 April 2013

Why do we sing?

Listening to the BBC World Service in the small hours (as is my wont when I'm unable to get back to sleep) I was assisted, abetted or frustrated (depending on your viewpoint) by a fascinating programme on a subject very close indeed to my heart... or should I say lungs. No, both: singing.

I sing. I love singing. I'm blessed (I'm told) with a half-decent voice and I've been lucky enough to sing on numerous radio and TV broadcasts, to make commercial recordings and perform at a range of high profile events from the BBC Proms the the first performance of Paul McCartney's first foray into classical music.

But although I've thought of the voice and vocal technique, read about it, studied and practised it (and am even planning - with Professor Kenneth Park and Marc Murray - to write a book about it) until the other night I'd never really thought about the evolution of it.

Why do we sing? What (if any) advantage does it give us as a species? And how did we acquire this remarkable ability.

Well, thanks this this programme I now know that singing is about attracting a mate, deterring intruders and binding a community together.

Actually I always knew that: I met my wife singing in a choir and first fell for her voice. As for deterring intruders, well... that's what the birdies are doing early in the morning, isn't it? Those lovely, fluting melodies are really 'gerrof my land' expressions of territorial possession (or sometimes, 'you lookin' at my bird?' - literally - examples of musical aggression).

And, on reflection, I've always known about the community aspect of singing too. Singers are healthier, less stressed, less likely to become depressed and a whole host of other things in no small part due to the social aspect of singing in choirs. And even soloists, of course, need an audience.

There's so much to be said (or sung) about singing that I'm going to have to come back to it in another post. For now, to finish, I'm going to share a performance by a singer I admire, attempt (badly) to emulate and would gladly enter a Faustian pact to have the voice of but who above all sums up why I sing and why I'm so passionate about singing. Some people love the purr of expensive petrol engines; some take pleasure in the roar of a mighty steam loco. This man's voice is both, as gentle as dove but with the power to break the sound barrier should he need to:

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