The power of song

By Mathias Maurer, June 2013

Dear Reader,

Mia never stops singing. During play, on a walk, in the bath, but also with her mouth full at mealtimes. The five-year-old can sing all the verses correctly or make up a tune, or she might just hum away to herself. If she is asked directly to sing a song she falls silent. Even if she does not understand the content of all the texts – singing is part of her life. Paul, her brother, refuses even to open his mouth. After all, he is fourteen already. Singing? How embarrassing! He also once used to like to sing, beautifully. Where has that gone? Paul knows secretly that he would have to reveal something when he sings, something which his little sister still possesses quite naturally: oneself – and Paul’s self is just under reconstruction. Furthermore, he is occupied with other and more important things.

Eva is eighteen, the older sister of Paul und Mia. She sings enthusiastically in the upper school choir and is involved in the school’s choral concerts. She too went through a period when singing was not her thing. Now she really enjoys it again. She has liberated herself through singing, she says.

Singing is not just something which is subject to personal or age-related moods. Song has the power not only for individual but also for political revolution. The national liberation movement in the Baltic states in the 1980s and early 1990s entered the history books as the “singing revolution”. Hundreds of thousands of people sang their way to the independence of their states in peaceful demonstrations. The climax was formed by a six-hundred-kilometre-long singing human chain of two million people from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius.

“Where there’s song,  you can rest your head in peace,” the poet and writer Johann Friedrich Seume (1763-1810) said. While we might still agree with this first line, the next one, “bad people don’t have any songs”, is more difficult to accept. After all, dictators and the military, too, are well aware of the power of song which can be embedded deeply even in the souls of children. The winner of the Nobel prize for literature, Herta Müller, describes in her autobiographical essay “The red flower and the rod” how in a kindergarten she tried in vain to exorcise the enthusiasm with which five-year-olds belted out the hymn to Ceausescu by singing the Christmas song “Schneeflöckchen, Weißröckchen”.

The physician and theologian Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) wrote in his Cherubinic Pilgrim: “If you can rise above yourself even just briefly, You can sing the Gloria with God’s angels.”

Human beings can grow beyond themselves through singing, can open themselves up to something higher. For children like Mia that is still an enchanting matter of course.

Mathias Maurer


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