486. All Together, Now!

Several of my friends are experts at getting groups of people to sing together, either in harmony or in spirited unison. I respect the kind of talent needed to lead groups that way. I’ve always enjoyed singing in choruses and sing-alongs, and I think group singing is a powerful way to build community. I’m telling you this to provide a little context for what I’m about to say:
I don’t think everyone should be required to sing along, or to participate in group recitations. I’ve enjoyed much of what’s gone on in some of the religious services I’ve attended, but I particularly dislike times when everyone is expected to say the same words at the same time. People have the right to their individuality, and I feel very uncomfortable when I’m part of a large group that is reciting a bunch of words. It just doesn’t feel right.
The recitations to which I refer tend to be chanted in a dismal monotone. Some of them may be well-written, but I don’t feel like uttering someone else’s words just because everyone around me is uttering them. I suspect that many of the people around me feel uncomfortable about it, too. They don’t smile as they recite, even if they’re saying words that would ordinarily be said with a smile. No matter how joyful the actual content of the recited passage may be, it doesn’t sound joyful to me. It sounds spooky. I imagine a group of zombies headed toward some shrine. And I don’t join in.
I’ve never led my class in the pledge of allegiance. I don’t think I ever would have, even if I had been required to. Luckily, it never became an issue. I don’t think it’s a very good pledge, and I don’t think children understand it, anyway. But neither of those observations is my main reason for refusing to lead it. I feel as if it’s dehumanizing to get everyone to say words written by someone else. Even if I wrote my own pledge, I wouldn’t feel right about requiring other people to chant it. I believe that when people intend to communicate important thoughts, they ought to use their own words.
When I used to say good morning to the children I taught, I didn’t say, “GOOD MORNING, CLASS!” Nor did I expect the class to chant, in unison, “GOOD MORNING, MR. BLUE!” I spoke to individual children as they entered the classroom. A class of twenty has twenty unique children in it, and whatever words each one chooses to utter ought to express what that child wants to express.
Many of the songs I like have choruses that contain important messages. And I like the way Pete Seeger and many other musicians I admire build community by encouraging people to sing together. But if some people don’t want to sing along, that’s okay with me.

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