Sound of Charlotte Blog

Singing worlds into being. A view from an Oratorio Singer

Originally Posted: July 2010

My mother is a church organist, accompanist and piano teacher; my father a retired choir director and vocal soloist.  So I grew up in a home filled with music. Dad, raised in a home where singing was not smiled upon, except perhaps in church but certainly not during a meal, encouraged his children to sing early and often. And so we did. Especially at the dinner table. We would often sing the blessing. We would frequently launch into a tune if someone uttered a phrase that reminded us of a song or inadvertently spoke a few actual words from a song. And we would sometimes create impromptu operas based on the conversation or what happened to be sitting on the dinner table. ("The Seasonings," based on a salad dressing bottle, had a particularly successful run.) It was often silly, and perhaps we didn't sing particularly well, but we sang.

I joined the Oratorio Singers last year, and I am glad beyond words to be singing the great works of music with such a wonderful group of like-minded people who are dedicated to the pursuit of excellence. And to making great music. This November, for example, I am pretty sure that we won't be singing about salad dressing. Alongside the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, however, we will be singing Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio, Die Schöpfung (The Creation), considered by many to be Haydn's (known as the "Father of the Symphony") masterpiece.

Someone asked me the other day, "Why do you sing?" My response, of course, was that I sing because I cannot play an instrument. But the question got me thinking. Why do we sing? The human race has created music and sung songs for over 3,000 years. We know from archeological discoveries that music was a vital part of virtually all known ancient cultures, from Greece to Persia to Egypt to India to China to Africa and beyond. Australia's indigenous Aborigines believe that the world was sung into creation, and they can still navigate vast distances across the land via ancient paths known as songlines. It's a beautifully poetic notion that C.S. Lewis employed in his fictional work, The Magician's Nephew, as Aslan the lion's powerful singing calls the world of Narnia into existence.

I have come up with three reasons why we sing (well, four, if you count the inability to play an instrument). Alas, none of them include the possibility of appearing on American Idol.

We sing because making music is an intrinsic and essential part of the human spirit. It's part of what we do, and of who and what we are. We sing not because we can, but because we must. Sure, let's not get too carried away. After all, the ability to sing doesn't separate us from the animals. (That's what opposable thumbs, and instruments, are for.) But music is part of the human DNA. We aren't human because we sing; we sing because we are human.

We also sing because there are songs that need to be sung. The Oratorio Singers have performed a remarkable repertoire of the great music of our time. If you cannot be moved by the musical genius and the soaring optimism of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or by the depth of emotion and rich tapestry of folk and liturgical harmonies in Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil, then you cannot be moved.

Finally, we sing because someone is listening. Sure, you can sing along with the radio in the car without an audience (and may even be glad for the lack of one!). Singing for an audience, though, is a rich and rewarding experience for both the singer and the listener. It's a form of communication. I used to enjoy the applause at the end of a performance because I thought of it primarily as a reward for a collective job well done. Standing on the stage of the Blumenthal PAC at the conclusion of Beethoven's Ninth this past April, I realized that I had got it somewhat wrong. The enthusiastic applause at the end of a performance is indeed thrilling to hear. But not so much for what it says about the performers or the performance. It's thrilling to hear for what it says about you, the listener. And what it says is that the impact of the live performance of a great musical work has moved you to respond. In a way that no other art form (and no CD or radio or MP3 file) can, a live performance has elevated your spirit, and maybe even raised your body out of its seat. You have participated in a shared, uniquely human experience and absorbed the beauty and emotional power of live music into your very being. You have fed your soul.
Music affords us the opportunity to celebrate the most essential form of human expression and the highest reach of the human spirit.

That's a good reason to sing.

Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois, Tim Parolini grew up listening to a wide range of music, but mostly classical, jazz and blues. A graduate of Aurora University, he studied voice with Mr. Sten Halfvarson and performed with the Fine Arts Chorale under the direction of Dr. Elwood Smith. His fond memories of attending concerts as a youth include many Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances under the direction of the late, great Sir Georg Solti. Tim runs a brand marketing and design business that specializes in helping niche-oriented businesses and nonprofit organizations identify and effectively communicate their brand value. He is excited to be participating with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte and currently serves on its board.
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Tagged as Beethoven, Beethoven's Ninth, Haydn, History, Live Performance, Oratorio, Rachmaninoff, Sing, The Creation.

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