Our program has been blessed with incredible musical talent, including guitarists, one percussionist, and someone who plays the spoons. Though all of them are gifted, only one has compiled, of his own free will, an entire songbook full of songs he transcribed, printed, alphabetized, and then put into a binder. This songbook is accompanied by a mini-me spiral bound version that looks as professional as anything you could buy from a Christian bookstore.
Because of the abundance of musical talent, at many of our gatherings we have had the great privilege of huddling around his songbooks, flipping through them until some loudmouth sees a song they like and then calls out, “Hey can you play _____”, a question that deserves a swift slap in the face since he was the one who transcribed every song himself.
Obviously the singalongs are wonderful, especially since we have able bodied players, a songbook, and people who are literate. One would even think we had the recipe for seamless, coordinated singing that anyone would be overjoyed to hear. Unfortunately, my friend, it is not so. Despite that fact it is always fun, our singing often misses the “enjoyable for others” mark by a long shot. I have outlined below some of the causes of this phenomenon, one that also plagues buses and campfires the world over. First of all, however, let me state that I am one of the most egregious singalong offenders, and have committed every possible singalong offense hundreds of times over and look forward to doing so again in the future.
Factors contributing to less than perfect singalongs:
a. It’s hard to think of songs everyone knows on the spot. Inevitably, the first songs thrown into the mix are the national anthem and “Amazing Grace,” both of which are impossible for most humans to sing. The next ones are songs that people only think they know, “Sweet Caroline” or “Don’t Stop Believing” for example, which quickly sour as the majority realizes they only know one line that comes halfway through the song and lasts for brief 5 seconds of exhilaration.
b. No one knows all the words to almost any song, unless they’ve memorized it like a freak. One cannot live on choruses alone, yet the compulsively memorized songs are also the ones that others are most likely not to know. These are the personal favorites, the songs played on repeat in the soft darkness of one’s room during most of junior year in high school. Alternatively, the song reminds one of summer camp or an old crush, also experiences no one else will share. They will not like the song as much as you.
c. People choose songs that are inappropriate for group settings, suggesting their favorites which, as I’ve already pointed out, the entire group will not instantly love. Songs that people enjoy for their easy pace, wistfulness, and deepness will almost never carry over well in a group because they are, above all, slow and sad. Do you go to parties and try to make friends by talking about the long and drawn out death of your next door neighbor? No, you tell jokes. This is the singalong equivalent of a Lady Gaga song.
d. Famous singers generally have beautiful and/or distinctive voices. Singalong companions often do not and are also unaware of this discrepancy in vocal ability. There are not many people that can sing like Kelly Clarkson. She won a nation-wide contest that captivated America and if people of her skill level were present at any Chuckie Cheese’s, then obviously things like American Idol wouldn’t exist. Therefore, we should not be so surprised that we do not sound like her when we sing her songs and indeed that we cannot sing her songs very well.
e. Singing along with a guitar is different from singing with a YouTube video or your car radio. For the unexperienced, it is always difficult to find the key in which the guitarist is playing. Some never find it and continue to blissfully sing in the key they are most used to hearing while they are alone in the kitchen cooking and singing. Since they are not vegetables, everyone else notices.
f. Similar to the above foible, everyone likes to sing the song just as they hear it in their head. If they’ve sung the song many times on their own without backup music, it’s likely they’ve added cute dips and improvisations to the normal cadence, all of which the rest of the group is unaware and cannot follow along with. A group of 6 people each singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” as they have developed it in their personal repertoires sounds surprisingly similar to an ax sharpening contest.
g. Invariably, some participants exhibit a severe lack of personal awareness while they are singing. Though you feel you are pouring your heart out during a rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” staying true to the original intent of the song, to others you look like a maniac that will soon be in need of a defibrillator.
h. And, as always in groups intent on singing, the silent majority is forced to listen to the louder minority. Sorry, everyone else, even though all of you had a better song suggestions, because you couldn’t speak up in time you will be forced to listen to this really long, slow song that we don’t know very well since someone yelled it out a second ago and said it was their favorite even though it turns out they don’t know most of the words.
But, like I said, these factors in no way impede the enjoyability of a singalong, they only enrich it. The best part is that despite how much of a failure one singalong may be, there is always hope that next time it will be different, and that the person playing the guitar will know that one song you’ve been dying to sing even though it’s 9 minutes long and is about cat diabetes.