Elizabeth Ohene writes: Want world to sing

Elizabeth Ohene

I sing when I am happy. I sing when I am sad. I sing alone, I sing in choirs, at least I used to and I sing along to songs and music generally.

I sing in the shower, I sing out loud, I sing in my head and I get irritated when I can’t remember the lyrics of a song.

I love lullabies, (every child left in my care has been serenaded to sleep with Vinye loo Toboli,) and I love dirges (Blewue, Bella Bello on my mind).

I love hymns and I used to know the words of almost all the hymns in the Ewe hymnal off the top of my head.

I love Franz Schubert, I like his Who is Silvia? I used to love the Rolling Stones and almost drove my mother to distraction with their I can’t get no Satisfaction in my teenage years.

I now show my age by admitting freely I wouldn’t take part in the competition to choose between Shatta Wale and Stonebwoy, since I can’t sing a single line of any song by both singers.

But I know they keep my Sarpongmaa entertained and Nana Yaa occupied with endless arguments about which of them is the better singer.

But I say nothing special talking about my love of singing; we all sing and mercifully, you don’t need to have a good singing voice to sing. It is one of God’s gifts to mankind.

I am still compiling my list of the things that I hate the most about the effects of COVID-19 on our lives.

Somewhere up near the top of that list is what COVID-19 has done to singing and the silencing of choirs in particular.

Singing

Singing and, especially choral and group singing has been identified as one of the activities most likely to spread the virus. This happiest of human activities is being snuffed out.

A quintessential social art form has been devastated by the pandemic. Groups of people singing together in close proximity, this most joyous of activities have become dangerous.

I do not know how many singing groups there are in our country, but I know there must be lots of them. The church I go to has seven singing groups, each of which sings an anthem during the Sunday service every Sunday.

We won’t get into how long the services last as a result, but it is enough to give some idea about the number of singing groups that there must be in this country and have been silenced by COVID-19.

According to a group called Chorus America, 42.6 million Americans regularly sing in choirs and the USA has almost 270,000 choral groups. We probably have more than that number of choral groups in our country.

Just start with the church choir in everybody’s church and we are already near that figure. The most unlikely people belong to a choir of one kind or the other. And going to choir practice is an essential part of the weekly routine for many people.

I could have told them for free but it turns out that according to the Economist news magazine, researchers at the Oxford University and at the Oldenburg and Vienna universities have found that amateur choral singing helps to establish bonds and boosts feelings of connectedness.

Winneba Youth Choir

A year ago, we were celebrating the 30th anniversary of the leading choral group, the Winneba Youth Choir, in which I have to declare an interest as a patron.

In the past 20 years, the Winneba Youth Choir has been part of every event in my life, the happy ones and the sad ones.

They come for birthdays, parties, funerals, anniversaries, I attend their concerts and performances, they have surprised me by simply dropping in on an afternoon to sing.

Paa John and his group have brought me to tears and I have danced to my heart’s content as they sing at former President John Agyekum Kufuor’s birthday every year since 2001.

The Winneba Youth Choir, like hundreds of others that have spawned from their success, have taken choral singing to a much higher level and brought endless joy to many of us.

We have been fascinated by the innovation and adventure they exhibit in adapting old songs to new rhythms and new melodies.

An entirely new chain of economic activity has developed from the choral singing groups and the explosion of talent has been one of the exciting things on the social scene.

Alfred Addaquay, either by himself or with friends and other accompaniments can hold a hall full of people spellbound for as long as he chooses with beautiful music that is distinctively him and him alone.

There are the combos with any number from five to 12 performers and they can specialise in oldies or current hits.

Silent

They have all gone silent. There are no events, there are no birthday parties or funerals or weddings to which they can be invited to perform. Their order books are empty.

Will anyone think of singing groups as deserving of being considered to receive stimulus package?

The most pernicious part of it all is to wrap my mind around the concept of singing as a dangerous activity. And yet singing out loud is the quickest and easiest mode of spreading droplets from your mouth and if you happen to have the infection, spreading it among those around you.

The most depressing part of it all is to have to wear a mask to sing when you are in a group. And yet if you are going to sing out loud in a group, wearing a mask might be the only way of giving you some protection.

The most ludicrous part of it all is to have the singers in the choir socially distanced from each other. How do you make beautiful music, which demands togetherness, when you are standing a metre or two apart?

It is intolerable that the only answer that I do have for dealing with a whole range of emotions is no longer available to me.

I want to sing out loud to get the frustration out of me. I want to sing out loud to congratulate Senyo and Sarpongmaa. I want to sing out loud, this haunting dirge in my head to mourn Dela. And I want to sing out loud to assure myself that indeed, this too shall pass.

I don’t miss the handshakes, I do miss the hugs and not being able to hear the choir sing is hollowing me out. I wish the world could sing again, out loud.

 

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