In the Oscar Winning Film, The Kings Speech, I learned many things I didn’t know about King George and about stuttering. One thing I learned was that even terrible stutterers don’t stutter when they sing. The actress Patricia Neal was one of my favorites. I read recently that when she had her first stroke the first ability she recovered was her ability to sing. She could not read and could barely speak, but she could sing. I remember my friend Ginger, when she first returned from her stroke would sing the hymns at Saint John’s. She would laugh later and say that the people around her only heard gibberish, but her ability to remember the hymns and sing them to her ear was one of the first things that returned that she lost and the most beautiful.
Singing and memory are linked together. In Joshua Foer’s best-selling book about memory, Moonwalking With Einstein, he discusses the links between the ability to remember and song. How do we learn the ABC’s or to spell encyclopedia, but with song. Beautiful poetry from the Psalms to the Beatles’ lyrics haunt or subconscious. A tune can stick with us and we can’t get it out of our head.
I, with a voice that leaves much to be desired, find myself singing in the shower, on occasion. I am fascinated by the thought that song may originate from a different part of the brain than speech or reading. The voice of a great tenor or soprano can move me to tears or rapture. Music and song have unique special places in each and every one of us. No wonder the psalmist says “ Let everything that has a breath sing praise to the Lord.” When we sing, play and instrument, or merely listen to another’s music we feel God’s pleasure. St. Augustine said to sing is to pray twice.