Catharsis Through Singing
Jared Fairfield, Contributor
My first semester at USM was during the Spring of 2022. Of course, “spring” semester is misleading, as most of it takes place during the coldest and longest winter months. That semester, I had two classes in person and two online. There was a distinct feeling of heaviness in both in-person classes, a kind of repression and sluggish apathy, and maybe even sadness. The students rarely spoke unless a professor obligated them to, and then it was only a couple of forced words. This was the first semester where students were attending classes in-person again after the lockdowns, and the preceding couple of years were likely a major factor in the demoralized density in the air.
In the following fall semester, I didn’t expect it to be much different. I went into a music research class and was almost shocked when the students started talking with a kind of bubbling enthusiasm which the professor also shared. It sounds very simple and minor, but it did a lot to raise my spirits just by being there, and I had to wonder why there was such a marked difference between these classes. All of it would be speculation, such as time passing since the lockdowns, a feeling of a return to some semblance of normalcy (whatever that is), maybe some of the students knowing each other (they were all music majors except for me), or maybe it just happened to be a lottery of incidentally bringing together a group of generally enthusiastic people. But I also considered the fact that the fact that these people were all steeped in music every day had an effect on them and contributed to their more liberated way of being.
I thought of all this when I attended the ‘One Song Only!’ concert put on by the students of Ed Reichert’s Musical Theatre Studio on September 17th. I had a thousand things to do that day, and I rushed into the theater just so I could cross it off the to-do list and get on to other things. Unfortunately, I missed the first few performances, catching only the last moments of a person who sang a song that seemed to be about fashion, as I heard the word ‘Balenciaga’ sung. The performer also wrapped a long piece of fabric around a person in the audience (who turned out to be another performer) and pulled them to the stage, where they began singing.
When I had finally settled into being there, someone got up and sang a song called “Ribbons Down My Back”, most notably sung by Bette Midler inthe musical Hello, Dolly!”. The song has a kind of haunting melody, and the theme of the lyrics are a wish and a longing to be noticed and admired: “And so I will proudly wear ribbons down my back, shining in my hair, that he might notice me”. Although I know nothing about showtunes, I still found myself having a kind of cathartic experience while watching the performance. Witnessing the performance gave me chills throughout. Not only was it a beautiful performance, but I also carried this revitalized feeling with me for the rest of the day. (There were many other powerful performances in the concert, but unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to write about all of them here.)
I followed up with the singer of “Ribbons Down My Back”:Karoline Brechter, a sophomore at USM with a major in Musical Performance. I asked Karoline about singing, and if she too found it to be cathartic. She said to me that “Singing is definitely cathartic for me. When I have bad days, I sing. When I have good days, I sing. If I’m bored, I sing. If I’m busy, it’s probably because I’m singing. So much can be expressed through music that just can’t be said or explained. It’s really beautiful.” She also said, “I definitely think everyone can and should sing. Even if you think you’re ‘bad’. Singing just releases so much inside you that you sometimes don’t even know is there. Whether you just sing in the car with your friends, by yourself in the shower, or end up performing or trying to make it your career, I think it’s beneficial.”
Based on my experience, it seems that not only can singing have these beneficial effects, but also merely seeing and hearing someone sing. It seems that the feeling of liberating catharsis is contagious if you open yourself up to it. Even if you don’t think you’re interested in theater and musical performance, the catharsis that can be experienced may be as good a reason as any to go. The world often seems to seek to block and repress the vitality of the heart, and to hush the spontaneous expression of the liberated voice. Singing can be like uncorking a bottle of champagne in the celebration of vitality and life that spills over in effervescent chills down your spine, like ribbons down your back.