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The Universal Language of Singing Along
By Audrey White
June 29, 2010
When I first came to Face to Face in 2007, I learned an incredible number of things. Among them was that there are a wide variety of ways to speak the English language. There is the quick U.K.-based accents of Northern Ireland, with a distinct emphasis on r’s and hard consonants. South African accents are round and warm, and as one participant mentioned, “you can hear them from a kilometer away.” Many Israeli and Palestinians grew up speaking Hebrew or Arabic and learned English as a second language, so their accents reflect diverse cultures and perspectives. U.S. participants represent Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois and Delaware, and the regional intonations in their voices give them away.
But for all the distinctions, these many voices come together when we sing. Monday night was the first night all four home groups were together, and after dinner we had an extended song session to teach participants the songs we sing after each lunch and dinner. Co-song leaders Kieran, Ethan and I passed out the songbooks to the participants, and the pages within unlocked a cacophony of universal sounds and expressions. We roared through The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” and “Faith” by George Michael, stomping on the benches and waving our arms. We went round and round, bounced up and down and tick-tocked during Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,” and the aweembawes were loud and clear when we split into groups for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
The South African group taught the new participants a folk song called “Shoshaloza.” “It’s about a train, and it brings everyone together,” said Talya, a South African participant. As we all sang the call-and-response tune, participants wound around the tables in a train of their own. Then, Israeli and Palestinian Leaders-In-Training led everyone through the Arabic and Hebrew verses of a camp favorite, “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” which means “peace will come upon us.” During “Lean On Me,” teens who had known each other for only a few hours locked arms and belted out the words together.
Music has always been an important part of my life - playing it, listening to it, talking about it - and these song sessions remind me of the power of songs for me and others to create joy in the face of challenges. Don’s Diner cannot contain the energy. The strains of Bob Dylan songs and regional tunes often float down the hill during free time. Songs, drums, chants and clapping break out whenever the fancy strikes us, no matter where we are on the grounds. And when there are this many people singing along, it’s so beautiful that we could take on the New York Metropolitan Opera.
All Things Catholic (John Allen)