You may have seen those videos of quarantined Italians, serenading each other from the balconies of their apartment buildings, snapshots of isolated people reaching for a connection. They’re singing local anthems, breaking out the folk song “Volare,” doing the Macarena (and changing the refrain to “Hey, Quarantena!”) and highlighting why more households here in the States need to have tambourines handy in the event of a global pandemic.
Watching these displays of solidarity, shared on social media, has been a balm in these times of social distancing, inspiring people throughout Europe to follow suit. Italians singing “tell me what it is which makes us feel like we’re together, even when we’re apart” hits home, and even if you don’t understand the words, the emotion comes through. We’re all feeling lost right now.
I like to sing. And if you’ve walked by my home in the past couple of weeks around dinnertime, you’ve probably heard me harmonizing with Linda Ronstadt on “Blue Bayou” or joining in with Stevie Nicks on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” So far, none of my neighbors have joined in, but the way things are going these days, it’s probably just a matter of time. And my microphone is ready.
I have no interest in knitting. Same with sewing, embroidery, crocheting. I’m beyond bad at anything involving illustrations, as those who have suffered trying to decipher my awful Drawful doodles know all too well.
But I do excel in one area of crafting — making music playlists on Spotify. And, lately, with the rapidly evolving anxiety surrounding the coronavirus pandemic being almost impossible to escape, I’ve become a little obsessive about making these playlists, paying particular attention to songs I know by heart and can sing along with. As much as I love Frank Ocean and HAIM and Tame Impala, what I really need right now is to belt out the comfort food music of my youth.
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One reason singing feels so good is that it releases endorphins, neurochemicals similar to morphine that bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being. Exercise releases endorphins too, but since the gyms are currently closed and we’re spending all our time curled up on the sofa, freaking out (i.e. “working from home”), we’re not working out as much as we might like. Singing also releases oxytocin, a hormone that can alleviate anxiety, stress and depression, the unholy trinity presiding over these uncertain times.
Now, these hormones and endorphins are increased when you sing together, which is probably one reason I kept going to church long after being beset by doubts over doctrine. The death of my father devastated me; singing “How Great Thou Art” with a hundred other people at his service lifted my spirits.
But you can get these endorphins singing alone too, and you can hear them being released in trickles listening to Elvis Presley’s last recordings, made at Graceland in his man cave Jungle Room. Drug-addled and crippled by self-loathing, the simple act of singing buoyed the King’s spirits. These aren’t the Sun Sessions, but it’s Elvis luxuriating in the majesty of his own voice and, yes, since you’re asking, I have a Seventies Elvis Spotify playlist, thank you very much, because “Patch It Up” and “I Just Can’t Help Believin’” are supremely satisfying singalongs.
And though Late Elvis might not be a good standard bearer for what I’m about to communicate, singing can also be a form of exercise, working your lungs, strengthening your diaphragm and stimulating the circulation needed if you’re going to try to emulate, say, Beyoncé belting out (let’s go with the obvious choice) “Halo.”
What you also might intuit while performing is that, in the process of lowering your anxiety levels and tamping down your blood pressure, you’re also, according to scientific studies, boosting your immune system, a line of defense we’re all thinking about right now.
So, yes, that’s why I’m compulsively churning through Spotify right now, latching onto anything that will lift my spirits. Some of these playlists have been designed more to soothe my soul (Sade: “In the middle of madness, hold on”). Others have been pure exercises in nostalgia, recreating my mother’s love for breezy Burt Bacharach ... which led me to “I Say a Little Prayer” ... which then prompted an immersion into Aretha Franklin. And though I can’t come within a country mile of her incomparable voice, I do know that singing along with her definitive version of “I Say a Little Prayer” helps me cope. I’m sure it’ll be my most-played song of the year.
So that’s what I’m doing right now. And you can too. Find the songs you know by heart. Find the songs that help your heart. And sing. Sing out loud. Sing out strong. OK, yes, that’s a morsel of advice from an old Carpenters song, and not one that’s aged particularly well for many reasons, one of them being that it also instructs you to “sing of good things, not bad” and to “sing of happy, not sad.”
Forget that. Sing whatever the hell you want. And make sure the window’s open. The neighbors will be happy to know you’re OK.