This is one of my favorite things that my child does: singing. Pop star is not high up on the list of things she’s likely to become in her lifetime (although I’d put it higher on the list than, say, a Republican senator or New York Times editor). This is why children singing is so adorable and awesome: my child is not concerned about how she sounds or whether anyone thinks she is any good. If she auditioned for Simon Cowell, she would laugh at his disdain and sing louder. Singing is fun, it’s loud, it’s expressive, and you can do it anywhere. It’s the perfect activity.
There are so many popular children’s songs for this very reason. My daughter has her favorites: “Wheels On the Bus” is still a favorite of hers, as is “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” She has a few she’s learned from our favorite children’s music composer, Sandra Boynton. She also loves “Rocky Top” and has nearly every verse memorized, which is, of course, the single greatest achievement any Tennessee parent could hope for their four-year-old. On top of all these songs, which my child will sing with abandon, enthusiasm, and a complete lack of accuracy, my child loves to sing original compositions.
Her most recent, an impromptu composition she sang for me at my request, went something like this:
Jesus is working
Jesus is working
Working, working, working
Jesus is working
Simple and direct, yet with many possible interpretations, it has deeply spiritual connotations as well as whiffs of earthly sweat and toil. (Call me for the rights, Jack White!) Other song topics have been butterflies, sunshine, knowledge, Daddy cleaning dishes after dinner, and a nonsense word called “Luhnyah.” These songs could comprise either the next Ke$ha record or the next Bjork record, just depends on the arrangements. Occasionally she will Glee-fully mash her songs into a single medley, so that you get one whole song about Jesus and butterflies and sunshine and knowledge. (Now it’s an India.Arie record.)
Singing is such a beautiful gift. It’s amazing to watch your infant child begin to discover the use of her voice for the purpose of talking, but singing is an art. Singing is discovering not just that you can communicate, but that you have a musical instrument in your very body. It’s freeing and embodying and empowering. It’s a completely unique experience, and yet doing it with others creates a powerful sense of community and belonging. The Psalmist wrote, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise” (98:4). Children do this intuitively and guilelessly. It makes me happy and jealous at the same time.
When do we stop singing as we grow up? I know that many of us don’t; you don’t have to be a pop star to love to sing. We have church choirs and community choruses and family gatherings around a piano. I know plenty of adults who sing, some professionally and amazingly well. But I don’t know lots of adults who sing with the kind of reckless abandon as children. When do we get so concerned about how well we sing? About whether we sing the right songs, or sing the correct lyrics, or sing songs at all? When do we become self-conscious, saving our songs only for socially sanctioned settings? Why are we not singing literally all the time? My child is.
Children understand the primal significance of singing. Sadness, joy, excitement, nonsense: nothing conveys these things as beautifully as singing a song. I hope I can take singing lessons from my child, learning to loosen all those inhibitions and judgments that keep me from breaking out into song at work or in the grocery aisle or in the shower.
It’s not impressive to hear someone explain their love of music by saying they sang all the time as a little kid. What’s impressive is if you are still singing as a little kid once you’re grown.