a reflection during eurovision 2021

Here on a Saturday evening in May, when the weather in southern England is more reminiscent of winter than late spring, I’m watching the finals of the 2021 Eurovision song contest. And as often happens, my thoughts get lost in the labyrinth of my imagination.

How long have we been singing? Not tonight, because that an easy question to answer, but overall, how long have we and our hominid cousins been singing? It may well be an impossible question to answer, since singing is ephemeral. A note, a song is sung; it goes out into the world and fades into the distance. Unless we have an artefact of the song, we don’t know the song has been sung.

I suspect that sheet music with lyrics would have to be considered evidence of singing – otherwise, why write it all down – but writing is a very recent invention. We have musical notation going back a few thousand years, but from the (admittedly limited) reading I’ve done, the few thousand years of musical notation is roughly the same as the few thousand years of writing.

Musical instruments, so perhaps bone flutes, indicate music but I’m not sure that the existence of musical instruments is sufficient to conclude the existence of singing.

Graham Norton is good, but I miss Terry Wogan. And Wilma the cat isn’t particularly interested.

Singing is clearly embedded deep as part of being human. Music permeates our lives and singing permeates our lives. And for me, there is a stark difference between a song and a spoken poem. Both are powerful, but for me, there is something about a song that can catch me in a way that a spoken poem doesn’t, though this might be that I’ve just heard more songs than poems over time.

I think I read something, not too long ago though I don’t remember the specifics, that work has been done that demonstrates that our Neanderthal cousins were capable of speech and perhaps also capable of song, though we will almost certainly never know if they did sing around their fires.

This touches on one of those points that periodically recurs, namely that for most of our history, we haven’t been able to capture stories or songs. We could tell them and sing them, remember them, pass them to the next generation, but there was always the possibility of their loss, in a way that I think we have difficult comprehending.

And if we were able to travel back in the past, this might be the question I would want to answer. I wouldn’t want to see dinosaurs. I would want to hear the first stories and songs being shared around fires.

~ by Jim Anderson on 22 May 2021.

One Response to “a reflection during eurovision 2021”

  1. Having been part of a full-time folk harmony trio for close to twenty years I can attest to the benefits, not just of singing, but of singing together – in harmony. It is uplifting, spiritually and physically. I suspect a massive release of endorphins is to thank for that. Also breathing for singing is beneficial to the body. You need to draw air deep into your lungs using the diaphragm, and control it on its way out in order to vocalise. Yes I suspect our distant ancestors sang and sang together. Work chants, and/or call and response songs. Someone in the tribe/group might have been designated to keep the history of the people, and what better way to remember – with rhythm and melody. Before notation, songs have always been fluid, each singer interpreting and altering the song to suit her/himself. It’s known as the folk process, and is carried forward today which is why (for example) the song ‘Creeping Jane’ went from England to the Americas (possibly in the 17th or 18th century), morphed tnto ‘The Skewbald’ and then again into ‘Stewball’. It’s a fascinating subject for exploration.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: