SINGALONGS AND MY TWO-2 RING BINDERS: 1948 TO 2008
PS the piece below needs to be edited to include the years 2008 to 2010.
This 2000 word essay explores the story of the gradual evolution of the singalong booklets in my life: 1948 to 2008. The first booklets of music in my life, at least those I remember, go back to 1948 when I was four years old. The first booklet of music, though, that I put together myself in order to run singalongs was in the late 1960s, in 1968 when I was twenty-four. From about 1948 to about 1968, then, I ran along on the singalong booklets of others: my parents’, my friends’ and, of course by the decade 1958 to 1968, TV’s many-idiomed and formatted aural-texts. During a period of some 60 years, then, from 1948 to 2008 I have been involved in singalongs in one form or another.
In the last ten years though, 1998 to 2008, singalongs using booklets of songs I created took place for the most part at an aged care facility, an Australian government-funded aged care home, called the Ainslie House. This collection of buildings is located beside the Tamar River, an estuary, that runs beside George Town and Low Head in Tasmania. The residents of this home in this the oldest town in Australia, live in a modern and attractive facility about one kilometre from the Bass Strait, an extension of the Great Southern Ocean at the other end of the world from were I was born and grew to maturity in Canada.
I have been in at least two dozen aged care buildings in my life. These places where home means living with many new people under one roof, getting used to other people doing some of the everyday things a person might have previously done for themselves and by themselves as well as working out new balances between one’s need for privacy and the inevitable community nature of such a life--these places are now an increasingly burgeoning presence across our civilization as war-babies like myself and baby-boomers all come into their late adolescence(60 to 80) incrementally year after year. Any child born in the first year of WW2 in 1939 will be seventy in 2009.
As a lecturer in aged care studies, programs in which I finished my teaching career in an Australian technical and further education college dealing with students studying aged care and other specialist training programs in various human services certificate and diploma courses, I became as I had so often before become “an instant expert.” I am now an expert in more and more subjects and know less and less, or so it seems, as the years go on.
A range of different levels of care as well as specialist services are available here in these buildings by the sea under one management and organizational structure: high and low level care, short and long term care, independent units and shared accommodation, transition as well as particular and multi-service care are all available under one roof. Care and services such as: respite care, care for particular cultural needs and health conditions, care for end-of-life clients, for war veterans, for the socially and financially disadvantaged, for the mentally ill and for people living in rural or remote areas. The flotsam and jetsam of society are all here on their last legs in they had the money to get in--that is.
To a lesser extent I also led singalongs in the decade 1998 to 2008 in the Baha’i community, a group I had, by then, been associated with for six decades. My final singalongs in classrooms took place as my teaching in FT, PT and volunteer roles wound down in that same decade. These singalongs became rare events in my last years in Perth Western Australia in large Baha’i communities and the smaller ones in northern Tasmania where I lived after 1999 and in the several classrooms where I taught. In the decade that I lived in Tasmania, 1999 to 2009, guitar-playing and singalongs slipped to the periphery of my life with one exception of one main bastion of activity—with the old and dieing.
In some ways it was fitting that the last few years of the singalongs in my life, 2002-2008, involved mostly senior citizens, the aged, old people, those in the last decade of late adulthood(70 to 80) and old age(80++)--here in George Town. I used large-print songbooks published in the UK with a small singing group, choir was not quite the right word, until 2005. I say “fitting” because the content of these booklets was mainly for the two generations born before WW2--in the first four decades of the twentieth century—the earliest years in Canada and Australia of the activity of the Baha’i community, the religious community I have been associated with since the 1950s.
In 2008, though, the material in my two volumes, my two 2-ring binders, that I used for singalongs was for all age groups. In must be said though that there are very few songs that originated in the period, the two generations that were born in the years from 1970 to 2010, circa. The group born in the years after about 1970 will find few songs that were popular from their years of listening experience in these two binders. I did not listen to the music of those two generations. For the music of some two generations(1970 to 1990 and 1990 to 2010), of a great mass of popular music; for example, the songs of groups like Abba, among a host of others, I never bought the sheet music nor did I learn how to play the songs in some personally inventive way by figuring out the chords. So it was that by 2008 I did not know the songs of those under forty well enough to sing them in groups informally in the Baha’i community or in any other communities of which I was a part as a teacher in primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions, as an adult educator, as a quasi-entertainer or one of a number of other roles I have had during those years.
These resources here in these booklets, these files, this collection, are here for singalongs in the groups I am involved with as I head into the last six months of the early years(60 to 65) of late adulthood(60 to 80) the middle years(65 to 75) of late adulthood and the last years of that stage(75 to 80) and finally, old age(80++), if I last that long. I have multiple copies of what I have come to call the music of other interest groups--for those not familiar with the Baha’i musical experience, booklets of songs I put together for students in classrooms where I used to teach as well as other groups. I have many editions of song books in multiple copy form that I made for Baha’i groups, as I say, as far back as the late 1980s. Songbooks from the previous two decades, the years 1968 to 1988, and the two decades before that, 1948 to 1968, have all been lost, thrown away or disappeared into the sands of time, the time that has been my life, as it has slipped irretrievably from my grasp.
These musical experiences called singalongs have returned to my life now here in George Town in the last six months. In July 2008 I put together a package/booklet of 75 songs as requested by the local aged care centre. Who knows when and who knows where and how these singalongs will develop in these years of late adulthood. My wife and son became a little tired of hearing the same old stuff back in the 1980s and 1990s for I am not a particularly talented guitarist and it is understandable that they have got tired of hearing all these old songs, this repertoire of mine. Singing in groups seemed to become passe, perhaps even to become seen as declasse or lower in social status/standing in the wider society or at least many sectors of the wider society that I came to live and have my being in by the 1990s and 2000s.
This form of self-entertainment and group entertainment that does not rely on the electronic media, though, is far from dead, though, and I feel it will be part of my life in these years before my demise, my passing from this mortal coil. In some ways it has been fitting that most of the singalongs I have been part of in the last ten years, 1998 to 2008, have involved residents of a home for those in aged care, for people on their last legs. I often thought that American writer William Faulkner's spirit may have been present in those sing alongs. I often thought, too, as I led these old folks in song that the spirit Faulkner had when he wrote his now famous book "As I Lay Dieing" may just be at the back of the leisure-social-room where we had our singalongs; perhaps this great writer, this winner of a Nobel prize in literature, hangs around the ceiling or occupied another place in these rooms and outside which the poet-historian Arnold Toynbee says peopled our lives, these unseen, unknown, unobserved souls, millions upon billions of souls at just one remove, one step, beyond our senses in a land of lights never to return to this earth, its beauties and its uglinesses, its bitter-sweetnesses and its joys.
These people who now singalong once each month all lay, sat up or palely loitered about, dieing slowly. Each month that I went back to this old folks home during these latter years of these singalongs someone else had died, sometimes two or three had died or had moved to the very edge of their final hour. Some sat in some state of increased decrepitude to that state I had observed in my previous visit and some looked brighter and more alert. Sometimes I was brighter and more alert. The term ‘old folks home’ was what we used to call these places for the old and dieing when I was a kid. And of course it was just that, a home, their last. It was their home, their last home on this earthly plane.
Slowly I got to know many of the names of these souls, got to know their life stories, their particular ailments in great detail—as old people are want to tell you to the nth degree of finitude. I also got to know a little of their philosophies and their religious proclivities.
The resources in my personally prepared, tenderly fostered, oft-used-and-repeated booklets of singing material that are here in my files, my collections are getting a new lease on life. They had often been kept, in this last decade, tightly sealed with a big rubber-band around them, in keeping for a future time when singalongs would once again return to my life and to the groups I was involved with in these years of my late adulthood and what would become, finally, old age. Now the rubber bands are off the its action-stations for singalongs once again.
Old age begins, say some human development psychologists, at the age of 80. I've come to like that model since the 1990s when I was a teacher of a course on human development. This model gives me now as it has given me in the last decade many more years before the onset of old age. As things stand now in 2008, I have another 16 years before I'm actually, officially, or shall I say psychologically, in theory at least, de facto, old. And I have plenty of years left for singalongs. Perhaps they may still be in my life in the 2040s, the decade when I become a centenarian. We shall see what those mysterious dispensations of a Watchful Providence provide in this the evening of my life as nightfall gradually approaches and “I go into a hole for those who speak no more,” as the Báb once wrote it graphically and literally in His voluminous writings back in the 1840s.
16 December 2008