October Bench Talk: "Friday Night Sing"

Last Sunday, Mrs. Caldwell and I were out walking and we passed a man sitting on his front steps who was singing. He had earphones in, and the volume must have been loud enough so that he could not really hear his own melody, but he was sitting there, nonetheless, in his own world, singing along to some song that I could not recognize. 

I bet that many of you have enjoyed a similar experience, whether it is in the shower or listening to your headphones when you have simply felt the urge to sing out loud. Singing, like dancing, is one of the few actions that brings people immediate joy. As Ella Fitzgerald said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”


WATCH: Headmaster Peter Caldwell's October Bench Talk


When I was in high school, (I attended a boarding school in Vermont as a day student), my school held Friday night sing every week. It was required, and the entire community got together and sang for an hour. Now this particular school valued music, especially classical music. The music conductor at my school had such a strong influence over the community that students were not allowed to have record players in their bedrooms. This clearly was before the internet and live streaming. Music was to be listened to – but not as background music. When you listened to music, you listened. The School provided a few listening rooms, where you could go and study music in private.

So every Friday night, the school community would get together and sing madrigals. Madrigals are songs for several voices, typically arranged in elaborate counterpoint and without instrumental accompaniment. Of course, we would sing choral movements of Bach cantatas or even the Mozart Requiem, but it was strictly classical. We would sit on benches by our section – sopranos would sit on the far right of the room, then altos, then tenors and basses would be on the far left.

Not everyone could sight read music, so students tended to sit next to someone who could. It wasn’t perfect, but the community improved significantly throughout the year.

I had two particularly close friends in high school. One was very musical and the other was tone deaf. We put our friend who could not carry a tune in between us, and we would sing with abandon and thoroughly enjoyed it. The music director’s wife would accompany us on the piano and the music director would teach the community how to sing.

Over the years, the school I attended has broadened the types of songs that are sung to better reflect the diversity of the community, but they still hold Friday night sing. 

In fact, Friday night sing is a highlight of reunion weekend. Graduates who return get together and eagerly wait to sing the old chestnuts of their youth.

There is incredible power to singing in a large group. New research suggests that playing music or singing together may be particularly potent in bringing about social closeness through the release of endorphins... Music has also been linked to dopamine release, involved in regulating mood, which seems to predict music's ability to bring us happiness.

Music is a language that has no boundaries. Unlike the spoken or written word, you do not need to understand music in order to be moved by it. Music is the most precise language available to us because it can evokeemotions that are impossible to articulate.

Whether or not you have been a member of a choir or sung in church, for example, I know that many of you like to sing. I know this because at the football game against Newark Academy at the beginning of the year, one of you brought out your music box during halftime and you sang along to popular tunes with gusto and joy. In fact, often when you get together, you sing – even in the lunchroom.

So, this is what we are going to do…we are going to sing a song as a full community. I asked a bunch of students what song I should ask you to sing. Jayshon suggested "Sweet Caroline," so that is what we are going to sing.


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