Powderhorn Park community sing: What better way to bond with a bunch of strangers?

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Oregon song-leader Laurence Cole leads a group of singers last week at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.

As anyone who found themselves singing “Love Is the Law” in downtown St. Paul Tuesday night — live and in person or virtually — there is nothing quite so medicinal, in an old-school tiger-balm way of the soul, as the feeling one gets when chest is lifted up and throat is tilted to the heavens with a bunch of strangers joined at the note and the moment.

To be sure, given the times we’re living through in Minnesota, with politicians and poets alike preaching from their pulpits about the power of love, many folks are busting out of their own individual hibernations in search of in-the-flesh gatherings that facilitate harmony and community.

To that end, if all goes according to plan, 1,000 or more singers will lift their voices in song Saturday (5:30 p.m.)  in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park,  in a show of solidarity with the so-called community sings of yesteryear and a real-time manifestation of the transcendental nature of the simple act of singing a simple song, be it from Ireland (“The Happy Wanderer”) or Somalia (“Waving Flag”) or something even more primal or pre-school.

Which is what I did last Wednesday, at my first-ever in-person sing. It took place in a second-floor meeting room at the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, but it was no organized religious event. In fact, the songs that were sung went out of their way to be non-denominational and more like Zen koans than standard ceiling-ripping hymns — which leads to an unbridled and dogma-free spiritual experience that brought a few singers to tears by the end of our night. 

“Some people think group singing predates human language,” seventysomething Oregon song-leader and wise man Laurence Cole told our group of about 100 singer/strangers (no more) Wednesday. Given the church meeting room’s décor of Renaissance-era paintings of the Christ story, it was hard not to see the single tom drum-beating Cole as some sort of seriously silly milkman of human kindness who makes sing-alongs out of poems by Rilke, Rumi and John O’Donohue.   

Over the course of two hours, Cole spoke softly between songs about the earth, our connection to nature and one another, and how singing communicates what’s in the soul.

Everybody joined in, and we all sang at the top of our lungs such mystic missives as, “Open your ears, open your eyes, open your heart, open your mind,” “I ride my bike to work every day,” “Go deeper, feel your roots, touch everyone around you,” “Localization paves the way for globalization,” and “Burning everything that’s in the way of love.”

“They’re close to being chants, but they’re more like layered songs, so it’s easy for people to find the harmony,” said Cole before the sing. “It isn’t a performance, but there is an audience, and everyone is joined together in a very simple way, and there’s a lot of beauty and a huge amount of fun. People connect kind of magically because you don’t have to go through a whole lot of ‘getting to know you’ stuff, because you’re connected by just having a good time together.

“What we try to do is write songs that kind of speak to the highest aspirations of mankind, and they tend to bring a higher sort of vibration or energy that is quite enlivening. I’ve been reading philosopher Ivan Illich’s “Tools Of Conviviality”  and thinking about this idea called ‘conviviality’: people sharing creative energy, and just what they came with at birth — their hearts, their lungs, their bodies, their souls, their spirits — and when that kind of sharing happens, conviviality occurs. It’s a specific uplifting and feeling that you have.

“Singing has been commodified, and really what this whole movement is about is a reunion and a reclaiming of our birthright to sing together and make beauty together. It’s the oldest and most natural way that we metabolize emotion and take what’s going on in our lives to another perspective and another way of experiencing our true selves. It’s a very old technology of belonging.”

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by matt wells on 05/17/2013 - 01:09 pm.

    more community singing

    Your friends at the Minnesota State Sacred Harp Singing Convention will sing all night as part of Northern Spark, so join us: http://2013.northernspark.org/project/singing-from-the-sacred-harp

    A reporter writes of his first visit to a Sacred Harp community singing here: http://www.texnews.com/1998/religion/sing1114.html

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