The Depressed Voice Doesn’t Sing

My Dad had a beautiful voice (as did his father, my grandfather), but he never sang in a choir. He loved song. We heard the love of song come flowing out at times, though that was unusual except during Sunday church services. I believe the love of singing and a voice to sing with was there in him.  That love and that voice was passed on to his children, three of whom sing in choirs regularly. I’m crying now, for his children get so much joy from singing.  My father with reoccurring major depression missed a world that brings so many rewards to his children and to me.  A world of joy, beauty and companionship.

As a child, I asked Dad,” How about joining the church choir?” His response was to look grave, shake his head no and say “No, I can’t read music”. It seemed as if I had asked him a really distant question. Singing in the choir seemed to be for those who deserved to sing, who were good enough (as persons) and who had friends in the choir. There was no possibility in his mind for him to join choir.

But he would have been welcome.

You see, despite the potential great reward, the risk may have been too high for my father to have sung in a choir. Risk? Singing in a choir? Yes, for Dad had high anxiety often, which is common with major depression.  The necessity of performing in front of an assembled congregation may have led to some real anxiety issues on Sundays. And something else, perhaps more subtle but more dangerous: Riding the waves of emotional highs and lows that are necessary to express when one sings the lyrics with meaning may have been too uncomfortable for my father. For there is no lack of opportunity to travel from the depths of despair to the heights of all grandeur and sublime to sweet simple unadorned joy when one sings good music. He may have been moved to tears when singing; even been unable to sing. When depression is near the surface, surging emotions are not safe.

And something else got in the way. Depression often blocks out the bearers knowledge that they have the talent to do something. “I’m not good enough” is a frequent negative thought and self-talk holding people back.

And yet singing brings great joy to many people and that passion for singing can lead to other benefits as well. Our singing brain is bathed in dopamine which brings feelings of pleasure and alertness as well as serotonin, another neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment. I remember feeling that going to choir rehearsal at the end of the working day was a trying task, requiring a lot of physical and creative energy. But so agreed with a friend and choirmate who often remarked that he was dead tired and didn’t think he make it until the end of rehearsals. “But then,” he said, “something magic happens and I revive….it happens almost every time.”

Singing, I believe, can bring healing.

 My father missed this world:

The first track on Chanticleer’s “Out Of This World” CD (1994) is titled I Have Had Singing, and it touches me every time I hear it sung with such beauty for I know its meaning well. Here is the story of the song:

A book by Ronald Blythes Akenfield, Portrait of an English Village, recounts the difficult lives of the inhabitants of a tiny East Anglian village in Suffolk, England. In one interview, Fred Mitchell, an 85-year old ploughman, recalls his difficult childhood. When asked what they did for fun, he took a pause, then replied:

“I never did any playing in all my life. There was nothing in my childhood, only work. I never had pleasure. One day a year I went to Felixstowe along with the chapel women and children, and this was my pleasure.

But I have forgotten one thing —the singing.

(Here I insert the lyrics used in the composition)

“Singing, singing, oh the singing!
There was so much singing then!
We all sang, and this was my pleasure too.
The boys in the fields,
The chapels were full of singing, always full of singing.
I have had pleasure enough,
I have had singing.”