Tunes We Carry


February 27, 2015 by rebelwithalabelmaker

I just wanted to tell you.  I’ve been singing a lot lately.

Normally I have a big theological point that I’m trying to express using stories about bedbugs and troll boogers but today that’s not the case.  I just want to tell you about the singing.

A year and a half ago, I decided on music. Well, my whole life ago I decided on music… which is unfortunate because I have no talent in that area.

I come from the Freakin’ Rankin Family, guys (Sorry, Americans.  Think Von Trapps but with more fiddles.  And then go look them up because they’re amazing). My family sings Happy Birthday in five part harmony, which was particularly amazing before my little sister was born because there was only four of them at the time (my Mom is creative about tunes).

I was the family toad. When it was time to sing Little Drummer Boy, it was my job to say “pum” over and over for the entire song on the same note, and pretend I was a drum. (To be clear, I was never quite able to even do this.  I also have no sense of rhythm). At school, every choir director and music teacher would wince when I sang.

I almost got a singing part one time, because they decided not to use a mic and although I cannot sound good I can definitely sound loud. There were tryouts and when we got to the end of the first four lines of Oh Holy Night, she KEPT PLAYING for me to keep singing, and nobody had ever wanted me to sing on purpose before.

There were call backs. I practiced and practiced to be as loud as I could. My Mom asked me to please do my practicing in the garage (story of my life). Which I did. In the Christmas season, in Saskatchewan. I did not get any prettier sounding but I was REALLY LOUD, people. I don’t know how many nights I spent in that dark, freezing garage, sing-shouting and dreaming of getting to be Mary in the nativity scene.

Call backs did not go well. After I sang, they promptly decided to use mics after all. Marjorie​ got the part. (She got ALL the singing parts. Because she can, you know, sing). I had to be a rabbit. I have only decided this week to forgive her. In part because she posted a picture of a puppy on my Facebook wall, and it part because I am thirty seven years old.

A few years ago, I started learning to sing. Allison​ and I drove to BC and back, and we would sit in the car and she would teach me tunes. Note. By. Note. She would sing “laaaa” and I would sing the same note back, and she would say “nope” and then I would try again. Americans, BC is a long way from Saskatchewan. Particularly if you are all in a car together, weaving through the mountains hour after hour, frantically searching for a garage somewhere in which to stuff your wife. As usual, Gary deserves a medal.

I wanted so badly to be able to sing. I started seeing these worship services where the people would lead the songs and it was so beautiful and I wanted to be able to DO that for people. There are things you can do with music that no amount of spoken word will ever touch.  Not that I wouldn’t try.  Words are what I have, and I will use them for anything… but trying to achieve the goals of singing by talking is…  kind of like trying to achieve the goals of eating by talking.  Which I have tried.

So a year and a half ago after seeing a particularly inspiring worship service and music workshop, I thought “Forget this. I am going to learn this stuff”. It was a hell or high water moment, folks.

And I’ve been singing every chance I get since then. Taking classes and lessons, recording and listening and fixing and learning. For a year and a half. Which sounds like it would be a lot of work but no no no. Not work at all.  Fun–like being on a flying trapeze.

What I want to say now, what I want to tell you, is that perseverance won and now I have a beautiful singing voice.  I would so love to tell you that they let me sing Oh Holy Night in the Christmas pageant at Church because wouldn’t that just complete the circle?  But of course, many of you are also UU, and you know that it will be a cold day in undetermined-but-universal-afterlife when my Church decides they will let anyone host a nativity pageant with Mary singing Oh Holy Night.  And also, I am pretty sure it is supposed to be kids in the pageants.

Also, I do not have a beautiful singing voice.

But I have a USEFUL singing voice. You can sing me a line, and I will sing it back, on tune. Not all that prettily on tune, but acceptably. Well enough that you won’t get that really broad smile that Canadians make when they are trying not to wince.

You know that moment when you think to yourself spontaneously “I love my body” but you don’t mean how it looks, you mean the stuff it lets you DO?”.

So, last night, I am at this amazing spontaneous community choir thing done by Kathleen Who Irons Napkins. (Okay, it was as spontaneous as Kathleen gets.  Okay, it was not spontaneous at all, it’s a six week class with registration but something about it felt spontaneous.  Maybe it’s how she was teaching us, without music, with a kind of relaxed joy… how she would sing out a line, and we’d sing it back, and she listened and adjusted the difficulty as we went.)

Or maybe it’s how we are all normal people.  Singing.  In Five Part Freaking Harmony. And I kept laughing with happiness, and suddenly I’m thinking “I love my voice” by which I don’t mean I love how it sounds, but I love what it lets me DO. You know like you can love the tree in your backyard even if it’s just an ordinary tree because you eat the apples and the kids climb in it and the blossoms take your breath away in the spring? Even though it’s just an ordinary tree… because there is no such thing as an ordinary tree.

In the last couple of years, my voice has allowed me to DO so much. I don’t know how we would ever get any dishes done without music.  Or how we would get the sadness out of ourselves, or how I would do my thesis for school.

“So, I can just make stuff up?”  I asked, on the phone to my friend Lynn who is a professional singer and songwriter.

“Are you kidding me?” she says, “That’s the whole point.  Everybody gets to write songs.”

Some of it is about learning, and some of it is about permission.  Tentatively at first, I start singing to the boys at night, with my four chords in the same progression all the time (“Is it allowed to do songs with only four chords?” I ask my guitar teacher, who laughs hysterically at the question).  And I notice something so beautiful about those moments–when I lift up parts of their day, or their character, or what they love or are proud of or are healing from…

These songs… these spontaneous, personal, usually terrible songs, are a whole new way of loving a person.  And then I realize that before recorded music, this was what we did.  We sang to one another.  Woven into the act of doing dishes and putting on band aids and going to sleep at night.

When did music become its own, quarantined, perfect, consumable product?

When did we start thinking of music as a thing you get to do when you’re good enough, instead of an inextinguishable part of being a human being?  When did I have to get permission from Lynn, from my guitar teacher, from “real musicians” to be able to just start singing?  Half of what my guitar teacher does is teach, and half is the bestowing of blessings.  “Yes, you may do that.  You may do whatever you want.  Although some of the things–heads up–will sound really bad.  And then nobody will die and we’ll try something else.”

There was a moment in Kingston a couple of weeks ago, actually, where they needed someone to song lead and nobody could do it.  So I volunteered because we needed to do that music (in my opinion) and then I’m standing up to do it and thinking “Oh wait, I don’t know how to song lead!” and then I thought “Well, I have watched it a lot, so what I’ll do is play a game in my head where I am acting like I am Kathleen”.  Which totally worked, although part way through I kind of forgot that about pretending to be Kathleen and acted a bit more like me than you’re supposed to in Church.  But by that time I was done singing anyways and it was okay to be me again because I’m not sure Kathleen could even pull off telling stories about Zombies in a Church service.

I do not have a rock star singing voice. But I am getting to do all the things that I didn’t let myself ever do because I didn’t have a rock star singing voice. Sometimes it’s about being better at something (and, don’t get me wrong, I have put in a lot of effort there) and sometimes it’s just about permission.  About deciding that you’re not going to surrender your right to sing.

I just wanted to tell you.  I’ve been singing a lot lately.


Also, if you live in Saskatoon, you can join the singing.  It’s AMAZING.  Message me.


Also, Lynn’s Music Ministry.  She is oh-my-holy-wow-brilliant.


Also, if you are UU:

The workshop from a year and a half ago?  It wasn’t just me that came alive, it was the whole worship committee.  Seriously, we started doing all kinds of things.  We had workshop guy come back just to Saskatoon, to do a workshop just for us and lead a service, and teach us stuff… and Kathleen has been doing all these amazing choir things now, and people ask for our playlist after Church.  I do not credit workshop guy for all of that (there is some chicken-and-egging going on here), but it was a very very good workshop, which I mention for a number of important reasons, which are:

a) Drum workshop guy will be at the ACM (the national UU conference in Canada).  Doing a full day stream and also the keynote.  Also I keep hearing rumours of a Flash Mob Thesis.  I hear them as they come out of my mouth.  Anyway, you should go to the ACM (even if you are not Canadian.  We do honourary Canadian).

b) He will be at Westwood in Edmonton the weekend after that, and

c) If you are not Canadian, I am pretty sure he does stuff in America too, but you will have to ask him.  I am pretty sure there are a lot of UUs in the Boston area, so he might do some work there as well.


One thought on “Tunes We Carry

  1. Lauren says:

    I love so many things about this post! The most lovely part is the thing about music as expression of love- so totally part of my mom’s care of me and my care of my boys. The most heart breaking is your line “You know that moment when you think to yourself spontaneously “I love my body” but you don’t mean how it looks, you mean the stuff it lets you DO?”.’ and I had a very clear articulation that I hate my body, not because of how it looks but because of what it won’t let me do. Meanwhile this is one of many recent random posts, events and conversations that push me to embrace things that I’ve been avoiding for so long. I’m feeling a pull to connect with the Unitarian congregation, to sing, to be honest and open and connect more. I’m altogether too good at shutting down and making excuses for not doing what I know I need. Thanks for yet another push 🙂

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