The

Fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@gmail.com

THE fi­nal cho­rus in the movie Song for Marion took a long time com­ing. All that up­lift­ing singing, all that grit in G-mi­nor was be­gin­ning to sound like a bro­ken record even be­fore the oldies took the stage. Haven’t we just heard this be­fore? Didn’t we just see Quar­tet, that movie about the rig­ma­role over su­per­an­nu­ated opera singers do­ing the Rigo­letto quar­tet? Didn’t we go through this a few years ago with As It is In Heaven? And didn’t our own doc­u­men­tary, The Choir of Hard Knocks, cover sim­i­lar ter­ri­tory in the streets of Melbourne?

As the grumpy Ter­ence Stamp said in Song for Marion, ‘‘ it isn’t me’’.

There are two mil­lion Aus­tralians who’ll dis­agree, as they tune in nightly to The Voice; there are many more who have queued at cinemas to see the lat­est take on the power of the voice and, ev­i­dently, there are still fans of Glee on pay tele­vi­sion.

Singing has be­come the ve­hi­cle for ev­ery feel­good mo­ment across our cinemas and TV screens. If it has sen­ti­ment, it has singing. If it is about com­mu­nity, it’s got choirs. If it’s lifeaf­firm­ing, it will drag the cranky pants into its com­pe­ti­tion and beat him into cheer­i­ness with a cho­rus of in­clu­sion.

Cyn­i­cal per­haps, but what else do you ex­pect from a girl who was told by the nuns to mouth the words of hymns so she wouldn’t spoil the sound of souls singing at 6am mass.

Still, the au­di­ences are all ears. So let’s tune in to this mu­si­cal mo­ment and see whether it’s fresh or a retro move­ment.

At first glance, it looks

old-fash­ioned. Singing is as whole­some as church fete jam. It was slowly go­ing the way of tea-cosies and cro­chet clothes hang­ers. But as with many fads, some­thing old-fash­ioned sud­denly can seem fresh. When you can play World of War­craft on your phone, find sex on the net and go to par­ties on Face­book, singing can look like the next best thing. Who knew? Next they’ll have us watch­ing peo­ple cook. Or tun­ing in to fat peo­ple on di­ets.

Even if it’s hard for scep­tics to fathom the point of watch­ing peo­ple sing, it is easy to un­der­stand the plea­sure of singing. Singing re­leases stress, is great for lung func­tion and blood pres­sure, and, if we’re all singing in key, it is pleas­ing to the ear and brain. Some­times you get short­bread bis­cuits at the end.

It’s so much a part of us that the author of Mu­sic and the Mind, An­thony Storr, de­voted a book to the idea that our bod­ies are bi­o­log­i­cally tuned for mu­sic and hu­man so­ci­eties bond through it. Singing has been a col­lec­tive rit­ual through­out our evo­lu­tion, lead­ing us into buf­falo hunts, bring­ing rain, ral­ly­ing armies and fright­en­ing op­pos­ing footy teams.

The peo­ple of song lines, singing cir­cles, eth­nic chants and ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal choirs might be miss­ing it. Who knows, the iPod gen­er­a­tion, who pri­va­tised mu­sic with their ear buds, might also be miss­ing the shar­ing of mu­sic.

We all like singing. OK, sounds good. But it’s only re­cently that we’ve been con­tent to lis­ten to other peo­ple sing, and it’s this voyeuris­tic el­e­ment to the war­bling craze that seems a lit­tle strange.

So, you have to ask, what pur­pose does singing serve in th­ese movies and TV shows?

Singing on the screen is the greater lev­eller. You can be blind, dis­abled, or­phaned, bigth­ighed and even a dumpy mid­dle-aged woman whom no one has kissed, but your voice can lift you above the pack. A fine voice, we’re told, can take you into peo­ple’s hearts, on to charts, into the green rooms of pop stars and into Wind­sor Cas­tle to meet the Queen. It’ll even buy you a makeover.

For the au­di­ences, the wit­ness­ing of this act of sal­va­tion makes them feel as if they’re do­ing their bit. It en­cour­ages us to think the world must be an all right place if so­ci­ety’s losers can make it on the strength of their voices.

The singing shows are our sa­cred mo­ments — but with bet­ter sound sys­tems. The singers are para­bles for our own trou­bles, the judges sit at the pearly gates with the keys to get­ting through to the other side, the au­di­ences are wit­nesses to the mo­ment and the rat­ings are tes­ta­ment to the truth. Hal­lelu­jah.

Those nuns might have a lot to an­swer for at the mo­ment, but failed Catholic cho­ris­ters are not the only scep­tics in town. As Ter­ence Stamp said be­fore he got ca­joled into song, ‘‘ bloody crack­ers, you lot’’.

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