We sing with our children constantly when they’re small—lullabies when they’re babies, all kinds of on-the-fly songs when they’re toddlers—but as kids get older, families seem to stop singing together. Some quality time with the singsongy kids’ show Wonder Pets made Toner Quinn, editor of The Journal of Music, wonder why we lose our voices.
When kids hit school age, Quinn writes, parents tend to channel their musical impulses into instruments—piano lessons and trumpet practice come in, and singing goes out. “From a toddler-hood of joy in singing,” he writes, “parents suddenly emphasize playing an instrument, as if singing just wasn’t substantial enough. Instruments are purchased, music stands are put up, practice is emphasized, and slowly that natural instinct to sing out at the drop of a hat is left behind.”
Part of it stems from a widespread belief that while musical instruments can be learned, a good singing voice is innate. “Our language is full of phrases to inhibit us singing—‘she’s tone deaf’, ‘he doesn’t have a note in his head’, ‘I never had a voice’. Very few people are actually tone deaf. Not being able to sing in tune is little more than a matter of practice.”
Society—the bulk of it—has become shy about singing. . . . Family occasions that cry out for a song—not just weddings and funerals, but lunches and dinners—are bereft of the practice of calling for hush, and asking the one or two in the family who are known to have a voice to release it. Do we know today if any of our nearest or dearest even have a voice?
There’s no easy solution, of course, which Quinn acknowledges. But his assertion that “music clearly needs a champion in the home” is a good place to start.
The Journal of Music
, August-September 2009 (excerpt only available online)