Sunday, July 8, 2012

Research shows "We're wired to sing"

When I lived in Minneapolis, I hosted a radio program called Night & Day with Anne Nicolai, about arts and culture happenings in the Twin Cities area and throughout Minnesota. My mantra—which I repeated every show—was, "Art is not optional. Without it, we would die."

I said that partly to cause controversy, and it did—people called in to argue with me. I'd quote research and real-life examples to support my point that orchestrated sound, color, shape, texture, movement, etc., gives us the information we need to survive. A friend owns an antique medicine bottle with ridges in the glass on one side to warn the user of its contents should it be grabbed in the dark. A sculptor made that bottle, not a scientist.

There are many, many examples of art as essential to life, and today I found an article in the online magazine that sheds more light on the subject. It says that art—including music, dramatic storytelling, applying certain shapes and colors to our environment, and other forms of artistic expression—is an urge all of humanity shares.

"Like sex, hunger and religion, art emerges, somehow, from our biology," says David P. Barash, in the article reprinted from his book Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature (2012, Oxford University Press).

“Art is not optional. Without it, we would die.”

In other words, "we're wired to sing," as the headline of the article says—and to dance, and to care whether the walls in our house are blue or yellow, and to chuckle with pleasure when a toddler spontaneously bobs to the beat of a salsa band playing in the Jardín.

As a karaoke party host, of course, I love coming across research that helps me to corral people into singing. Yesterday I met a man who's here with a friend from Las Vegas, where karaoke bars are plentiful, and when I invited him to come out and sing with me, he said, "Oh, ha ha, no, you wouldn't want that. I can do a lot of things, but I can't sing."  

Au contraire, my friend! As it says on my business cards, EVERYONE can sing. No one said anything about being in tune, or on the beat—it matters little compared to the exercise of it. Creating a joyful vibration in the body is the point; that and strengthening the social bonds that form whenever people sing together.

Am I saying karaoke is an art form? Well, speaking from the perspectives of psychology, sociology and evolutionary biology, yes, it is! And while I wouldn't substitute karaoke for art in my mantra that without it, we would die, I do encourage everyone to grab a microphone once in a while.

You're just as "wired" for singing as Celine Dion or José Alfredo Jiménez ever was!