If I found myself cast as a mythical heroine facing a series of trials, one of them would undoubtedly be singing in a room full of strangers. Despite this deep-seated terror, I ventured out in the freezing cold last night to participate in the monthly Community Sing at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Grove Street.
At the front of the Church’s Fireside Room was a couple with an assortment of guitars and a banjo. Because I am a really good eavesdropper, I learned that the usual singing leader Sally Potter was home with a virus. When I struck up a conversation with the two women on my right, I learned that our substitute leaders were Jim Hall and Cindy Morgan of the Grand River Band, a local folk group.
I had counted about 32 people sitting on folding chairs, but one of my new friends told me that what I was seeing was maybe half the usual crowd. She attributed this to a combination of bad roads, illness and the absence of snowbirds who had fled to warmer places (like Antarctica).
I was still terrified, imagining elementary school music class where everyone had to take a turn singing a solo. The people-watching was interesting, though; most of the crowd was older, and there was a pretty even division of men and women. There were a few younger faces, and one young woman appeared with a cello and set up in the front near the song leaders.
I suddenly realized that I didn’t have a copy of the song book everyone else seemed to be holding, and with a rush of panic I got up and found the nice woman who had shown me where the coat rack was when I first entered the building. “Oh here, dear,” she said, pointing to a pile of loaner copies “you don’t need the large print, do you?” Fortified by this tiny validation that I looked young-ish to her, I took my book and returned to my chair. I can’t sing, but I still look too young for large print.
At 7:30, folks settled in their seats. A voice in the crowd would call out a page number and a song title, and whatever they chose, it was next. We sang “Wild Rover,” and “Moon River,” The Beatle’s “Yesterday,” and “The MTA Song.” The power of music is a cliché, but I admit that my eyes filled as we sang “Union Maid,” which my father used to sing to me, and that I belted “Yesterday” and “Moon Shadow” from memory, a sulky teenager again in the privacy of my bedroom.
It was not The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was, in fact, kind of rough in the musical perfection department. It didn’t matter though, how the singing was, because after fifteen minutes I stopped glancing at my watch, and relaxed into the sense of community that grows when a room full of people sings with a swooping cello obbligato or the Pete Seeger exuberance of a banjo.
It also didn’t matter that I, personally, don’t have much of a voice. The feeling in the room was about the group as a whole, and about connection, not the performance or abilities of any individual. It was a community, singing. We closed with “Goodnight, Irene,” and “The Song of Peace,” chatted as we bundled up, and headed back into the cold night.
I’ll be back, because next time I want to pick a song, and get to know more people. I may even be brave enough to attend the Mid-Winter Singing Festival on January 30th and 31st. It seems that, in the warmth of a community, I really can sing after all.
Monthly Community Sings are held the first Monday of each month from 7:30-9:00 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, located at 855 Grove Street (across the side street from the East Lansing Public Library).
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