Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

‘Subsume Yourself’ and Sing

 by Lisa Gulya


Tags: Arts, music, singing, a capella, Brian Eno, Resurgence,

Barbershop QuartetWe need more sing-alongs. Before you start picturing barbershop quartets or the Utne Reader staff kumbaya-ing around a campfire, know that the idea comes from musician and producer Brian Eno writing for Resurgence. And he's not writing about office bonding or spangled matching outfits. He wants a capella groups, like the one he started a few years ago, to spring up among friends, without the goal of reaching the stage or recording studio. Giving up the expectation of performing, writes Eno, “gives us the freedom to get it all wrong.” But the activity still has all the benefits of song, including happy old age, according a Scandinavian study, healthy lungs, and an immediate “sense of levity and contentment.” 

To help readers start a capella groups of their own, Eno offers a few tips. First, choose songs with chords common to blues, rock, or country, “the same chords you hear at the beginning of ‘Louie Louie’ or ‘Wild Thing.’” Since the chord sequences are familiar, singers can improvise “without the risk of a catastrophic harmonic train-crash.” 

Other important considerations include finding “vowel-rich” songs that are “rhythmically interesting,” and matching tones among singers. And on the practical level, Eno suggests providing drinks and snacks and warming up before singing. 

“If I were asked to redesign the British educational system,” writes Eno, “I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine.” Just as Eno’s group never performs, neither would students be forced to. “You will do this every day, and you will never be examined on it.”

Image by Superbomba, licensed under Creative Commons.