Summertime: Rise Up Singing

By Rev. Beth Rodenhouse  •  August 22, 2019
Summer and Music

Hearing Ella Fitzgerald’s smoky voice croon George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from the opera Porgy and Bess evokes the warmth and joy of summer.  “One of these mornings, you’re going to rise up singing.” For me, summer starts in springtime when the robins return to Michigan to lay their eggs. I crack my windows, even though it is still so cold out, just so I can hear the robins trilling a chorus to wake up the sun. It seems to me they don’t think the sun will rise until they do the heavy lifting of a full chorus to wake up the dawn.

Most mornings, I wake up with a song in my head. Often it’s a hymn, such as "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" or "This Is My Father’s World." Or it might be a song from one of my favorite bands, Mumford and Sons or Florence and the Machines, or even Rolling Stones. But those songs in my head help me enjoy the day. It’s like they create an attitude of joy and fun.

Summer and music go hand in hand. Music in the Park or outdoor concerts. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Frederik Meijer Gardens holds weekly concerts. There is something so right about sitting outside with music playing and birds and insects singing. My mother-in-law lives nearby, and we sit out on her deck, listening to the songs and relaxing with ice cold lemonade and small appetizers.

Memory and Music

My office is right down the hall from one of our dining rooms. Several times a week, I hear one resident, Ruth, begin playing hymns and popular songs as residents gather for dinner.  What’s not to love about that?  Ruth is a spry 99-year-old who played the piano for churches where her husband was pastor.  She’s sharp as a tack, and I wonder if it’s because of the music?

Recent research shows that music has a beneficial impact on memory. (See Repeated Exposure to Familiar Music Alters Functional Connectivity in Alzheimer’s Disease, July 2018, Alzheimer’s & Dementia). If you haven’t already seen it, watch the moving documentary, Alive Inside.

United Church Homes has become a certified care provider for the Music and Memory program. Volunteers and staff work with residents to create a personalized playlist that is downloaded to individual iPods for residents to use.  When Carol hears her favorite songs, she begins to smile, and starts to sing along, even though Carol’s dementia has impacted her short- and long-term memory.  But when the music plays, she can still remember the lyrics.

God and Music

I think God created us to sing and make music. Like Psalm 100 encourages: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.”  There’s something creational about music. It’s as if God wired our hearts to sing. But it’s not limited to just humans.  As the psalmists look around the world, trees clap and hills sing and even the heavens “pour forth speech.” And I’m fairly certain it is set to music.

Vessels and Music

I was driving to our retirement community when NPR’s Morning Edition reported on an exhibition entitled “Vessel Orchestra” by artist Oliver Beer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Each vessel, from a 7000-yea-old clay pot to a modern wine glass sings a note.

Artist Beer said, “Every empty space, whether it be an empty room or a wine glass or a jug or the inside of a bronze bust, which is hollow, has its own frequency. That’s just a universal truth. And so, in fact, every single object that I’d listened to was an empty object, and therefore every single one had its own note.” Placing empty vessels from Metropolitan’s Museum of Art’s collections, Beers dropped microphone’s into the pots to broadcast their notes.  The result?  The pots sang! (“Crock of Ages:  New Exhibit Reveals Ancient Pottery’s Millennia-Long Songs” by Neda Ulaby, August 6, 2019)

This summer, whether it’s visiting New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or asking Alexa to play an old favorite, rejuvenate yourself with song. “One of these mornings, you’re going to rise up singing.”

About the Author

Rev. Beth Rodenhouse

Rev. Beth Rodenhouse served in parish ministry for eight years and chaplaincy for five years. She currently serves as chaplain at Pilgrim Manor, a United Church Homes community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is part of the ministry of the United Church of Christ.

View all articles by Rev. Beth Rodenhouse