When I was a young boy, the town where I lived had a Christmas gathering every year. I don’t remember where it was in the town, but I remember standing with my dad, along with other dads and moms and kids, all bundled up, in the dark and cold. The purpose of our gathering was to sing Christmas carols. I don’t remember whether there were printed words or not. It seemed as if most of the people knew the songs already. And so I learned my first group of community songs.
When I went to summer camp, I learned another group of community songs. We sang “Red River Valley,””Coming Round the Mountain,”and a whole host of simple folk songs. It seemed natural to sing, even if we thought the songs were corny or old-fashioned.
When the folk revival came full steam, another group of songs appeared– “If I Had a Hammer,” “Cumbayah”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” By now, the idea of singing songs together with others was not strange. When the Beatles came out with their string of hits, we sang along with them.
And so, by the time I left my teens behind, I was already practiced both in singing and in community. It is not surprising that I gravitated towards a community choir, the Emandal Chorale, which I now direct and write music for.
Yet I wonder—are we losing the tradition of singing together? The high school kids I teach don’t have the same experience as I had. Christmas is a specialized tradition now—many of the songs I take for granted are unfamiliar to them. Summer camp songs, ditto.
Our salvation, as a culture, is that each generation has music that it loves, and shares. Now it’s up to community choirs, karaoke and contemporary acappella to keep the tradition of community singing alive.