catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 5 :: 2007.03.09 — 2007.03.23


Sing along

I remember sitting on the gym floor in grade school listening to an interactive concert by British singer-songwriter Garth Hewitt.  The sing-along chorus of a camp song about an aardvark sticks with me still.  "I love my aardvark, my aardvark loves me…" 

I remember sitting (of all places) on the toilet singing an improvised song about how much I miss my dead great grandma.  I thought it was quite profound at the time.

I remember sleeping out in the tent at the cottage with my friend Becky taking turns singing songs well into the night.  That was my introduction to the song "Seek Ye First".  I can just imagine the smiles on my grandparents' faces as they listened through the open windows on those summer evenings.

For most of us, there's an imperceptible moment somewhere around 4th grade when we suddenly become self-conscious and cease to enjoy music the way we used to.  We roll our eyes at motion songs.  We get butterflies at the thought of trying out for the school musical.  We stop making up songs about the wonderful mundane things that surrounds us.  We forget how to translate the impulse to dance into wiggly unstructured motion.

Lately, I've come across music that makes me smile, and not because it's silly palatable nonsense for kids, but because it expresses a truly joyful vision of reality that tends to get lost under stacks of adult worry and regret.  Lenny Smith, father of Daniel Smith of Danielson and the Danielson Famile, expresses it so well.  I've been e-mailing back and forth with him recently because he'll be speaking at an upcoming event that I'm helping organize.  This is the description that he wrote for his workshop, "Unless You Become Like Little Children":

There is an "alternate world" all around us: a world of wondrous joy and abiding peace and infinite supply.  In this world, right here now, forgiveness is commonplace and love and kindness are continual, everyday events.  Generosity always leads to increase and no one really wants to claim ownership of anything at all in this "fourth dimension."  Sharing is everyone's preoccupation and creating is everyone's delight.   There is a Presence, a Protector, a Provider, taking care of everyone, helping and encouraging, and always turning everything for good, without exception!  Even the animals know about this place.  The birds sing about it, the trees wave their limbs and the winds blow around and the waves roll-up on the beaches, celebrating the beauty and loveliness of this garden in which we live. There is a problem, though.  Only the small children, and not even all of them, know about this happy world and can actually see it.  And once they reach a certain age, something changes in their eyesight and minds and they cannot see it any longer and all too soon forget about this present garden.   I believe there is a way to regain our sight and see again this "other realm," but, even among Christians, only one in a hundred finds The Way. But still the loveliness continues forever all around us.

I quote him at length because I think he's getting at the fact that there's more at stake here than just some abstract self-helpishness about the "inner child".  Our longing to recover a child's sense of music goes beyond a desire for temporal "happiness" to a deep yearning for true joy. 

Getting at the same idea in a musical way is a new band out of Rochester, New York, called Ju-Jajuba with their song "Every Light":

it's just you
and you're dancing up the stairs
to your room
and it's every single light inside of you
being seen and being free, hallelu
and it's every single light inside of you

at the bottom of my heart
there's a busy little town
the people there always share
and rest at common ground
they don't fit the rules
their eyes are made of jewels
the tiny souls are happy there
dancing in the nude

it's just me
and with a child's earnest lungs I start to breathe
and inside hummingbird wings begin to beat
and you and me with our eyes closed we start to sing
and with a child's earnest lungs I start to…

(Apologies if I got any lyrics incorrect.)  You can listen to "Every Light" online—be sure to stick around for the end.

Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird also makes an effort to articulate this alternate world in his song "Tables and Chairs" (off The Mysterious Production of Eggs):

I know we're gonna meet some day
in the crumbled financial institutions of this land
there will be tables and chairs
there'll be pony rides and dancing bears
there'll even be a band
cause listen, after the fall there'll be no more countries
no currencies at all, we're gonna live on our wits
throw away survival kits,
trade butterfly-knives for adderal
and that's not all
woah! there will be snacks, there will
there will be snacks!

Snacks, dancing in the nude, relinquishing the drive for "ownership"—thank God for these artists who can put words and sound to our unease with adulthood.  The cynics can keep right on talking down their noses at youthful idealism, but such chatter is bound to be drowned out by the raucous street party that's always in progress for those who are energized by a ridiculous hope: those who "don't fit the rules".

My nephew will turn two in July.  When he hears a good beat, he throws back his elbows, clenches his fists and bends his knees to bounce up and down in time.  "Dance, dance, dance!" my sister encourages him.  I hope he can always see at least a glimpse of what he understands so clearly now as he gladly shares toys with his little brother and runs around the house naked every chance he gets.  "There is an 'alternate world' all around us" indeed, and abundant reminders, as well.

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