At Home in Harmony: Bringing Families and Communities Together in Song
By Meg Chittenden
Meg Chittenden, Waldorf music teacher and teacher of teachers, shares her perspective on the value of singing in harmony. She is in the midst of creating a CD and songbook featuring a Waldorf-inspired collection of rich and diverse songs in harmony, offered in a format that lends itself to learning. To get involved, check out her Kickstarter campaign.
If you walk into a room full of people and ask how many are singers, one or two might raise their hands. If you ask how many sing in the shower or along with the car radio, a lot more hands would go up. If you ask how many enjoy music, you’d be hard-pressed to find a hand not up in the air.
So, why are so few of us willing to call ourselves singers?
I believe that on some level, we all want to sing. Most young children are still close to that impulse. Song arises out of them as naturally as breathing. They hum to themselves as they play or make up meandering melodies about whatever they observe around them. Then, little by little, they begin to get the message that only certain people can really sing, and everyone else is better off saving it for when no one else is listening, or not singing at all.
When this happens, instead of growing and strengthening and becoming ever more an expression of who they are and what they have to offer the world, our children’s voices are quieted, stifled, left to gather dust. This is exacerbated by a mainstream education system under great pressure to marginalize the arts in favor of academics, and a popular culture increasingly driven by highly-produced individual voices as opposed to participatory singing. By the time our children enter adulthood, those few brief moments before somebody blows out birthday candles may be the only time they ever sing in the company of others.
Yet, not only can singing be transformative, unifying, and healing, it is also one of the most profoundly human acts we can undertake. That’s why it’s my mission to inspire and enable families and communities to sing more together. I want to help people find their way back into participatory singing, and specifically, into singing in harmony.
There is nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from singing in harmony with others. Beyond the pure pleasure of it, I believe singing in harmony is a profound metaphor for all human interaction. In order to sing in harmony, we must be both fully-actualized in our own part and at the same time receptive and responsive to the voices around us. It’s like saying, “Here I am, and I recognize that you’re different from me, and it’s so amazing that the differences between us are exactly what create so much beauty when we come together in an open and receptive way!” There is so much power and redemption in this direct experience of existing in harmony with others.
This is the experience I want to bring to families and communities. Right now, I’m working on a CD and Songbook that I hope will do just that, and you can be a part of it! Join our Kickstarter to get involved.
If you are new to harmony, one of the easiest ways to drop right into it is to sing a round. By beginning the same song at different times, you can harmonize without learning different voice parts. Round singing is a great way to strengthen your ability to carry your own part, even when others around you are singing something different. It’s also more suited for families with younger children than is part-singing.
This simple little round is a favorite with the young children I teach (including my own 3- and 5-year-old). Take a listen and see if you can pick it up. It helps to listen to just one phrase at a time, stopping the recording and trying it out yourself before moving on to the next phrase. The lyrics are:
Blossom on the Plum
Wild wind and merry
Leaves upon the cherry
And one swallow come
Once you’re comfortable with the melody, grab someone in your family or a friend and try singing along with the round. Or, even better, turn off the recording and just sing it together.*
*If your children are under age 8, you’ll probably want to stick with just enjoying the melody and save the round for when they’re a little older.
While this round is very simple, the overlapping harmonies and rhythms that rounds can generate can also be very complex, creating rich and vibrant sound. By way of example, here is a little snippet of a song called “Deep Peace,” which will feature in the songbook.
Singing in Parts
Moving from rounds into true harmony singing is not as difficult as it may seem. If you can carry a tune, you can learn to sing in harmony. So let’s try learning a song in harmony! I was born in Kentucky and raised in Appalachia. This song, “What’ll I do with the Baby-O,” comes from that tradition, but I think anyone who is a parent can relate. Plus, I’ve found that older children love this one, whether or not they have baby siblings at home.
Here is what the song sounds like as a whole:
Let’s learn the chorus of this song together, starting with the melody. Have a listen and sing along:
If this is enough for you, you can just enjoy singing the melody alone or with others. If you’d like to add a harmony, listen below to learn the high harmony:
And finally, if you have someone with a deeper voice in your life, you might like to have them learn the low harmony and join you. Learn that here:
Once you’ve begun to feel comfortable singing the arts separately, try putting them together! Listening below will help you get started:
What’ll I Do with the Baby-OCHORUS:
What’ll I do with the baby-o,
What’ll I do with the baby-o,
What’ll I do with the baby-o,
If he(/she) won’t go to sleepy-o?Verse 1: Wrap him up in calico (x4)
Verse 2: Dance her North and dance her South (x4)
Verse 3: Hang him up in the tall tree top (x3)
The wind will blow and the cradle will rock.
Repeat Verse 1
FINAL CHORUS (same melody, different words):
That’s what I’ll do with the baby-o (x3)
If he won’t go to sleepy-o
Yay! I hope you’ve had a great time trying this song out.
If you’d like to learn the rest of the song, plus many more wonderful and enlivening songs that arise from a diverse range of musical and cultural streams, please join our Kickstarter. To find out more about us and this project, you can visit our website Sing Waldorf
Lastly, it would be such a treat for me to hear you sing! If you do get the chance to learn either of these songs, send me a recording or video! It would make my day!
Thanks so much, and happy singing!