Lift ANY voice and sing…please!!

27 Aug

Along with several folks from my congregation, I attended the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington this past weekend. It was a weekend that had some inspirational moments, some challenging moments, some peaceful moments. But in the entire experience, one thing was strikingly missing: song.

Group singing was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement of 50 years ago. It united people, strengthened their courage and resolve, inspired them. Martin Luther King said ‘‘The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle…They give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.

Songs such as “We Shall Overcome” and “I’m On My Way” turned a mass of individuals into a united force – a nonviolent force to be reckoned with. They conveyed meaning and helped people stand strong against violence. They provided a sound-track that brought forth emotion, united it in shared purpose, and directed it outward.

So I was expecting lots of singing this weekend: on the bus, in-between speakers, along the march route. I was ready to lose my voice – looking forward to it even. However, during the 40+ hours I was gone, there was only one song that I heard started (during the march) and it was barely picked up by surrounding participants. The few times I tried to start something, I was met with silence. Why was there virtually no singing? I wondered. As I have had a chance to reflect, three possibilities come to mind.

First, the program of the rally did not seem to pay attention to the flow of energy of those in attendance. It went from one speaker, to another, to another.  There were no breaks to reflect or process what the previous speaker had just said. Perhaps the organizers were so concerned about getting more speakers into the time that they felt they had to remove any singing. (Disclaimer: I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial at 10:30 – there might have been some singing before then that I am unaware of).   So singing was not built-into the program of the rally.  But lack of attention from the rally leadership would not prohibit singing during the march.

That leads to a second possibility: social media. Along the march route, I saw thousands of us raising our cell-phones to take pictures and video of the march itself. It must have been endlessly facebooked, tweeted, instagramed and more. On the one hand, social media has been used to connect people to make big things happen – like the Arab Spring. On the other hand, when I am documenting an event in social media, I remove myself from being present in the event. Perhaps with more documenters than participants, there was not a lot of energy to unite in song.

Third, I think the diversity of the march may have been a factor.  Bear with me as I parse this out.  I don’t have the data to back this up, but it felt like there were a lot more white people at this march than there probably had been in 1963.  Which, in many ways, is great!  But where does one learn to sing and learn the power of song?  Church.  And fewer and fewer white people (particularly liberal white people) are going to church, whereas black church attendance remains high.  The increase in unchurched white participation may have been a factor – group singing is not a common language anymore.

As I said above, there were some inspirational moments, challenging moments, and peaceful moments. What there were not were transcendent moments – those moments that come when I feel I am a part of something much vaster, much more powerful than myself. Group singing can facilitate such moments, and its absence at the 50th Anniversary March was felt.

One Response to “Lift ANY voice and sing…please!!”

  1. Marcia Jacobs September 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    I noticed on the news on the actual anniversary date that there was singing. I am so glad!

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