Thursday, October 25, 2012

Raising voices…

Soccer fans, the world over, love to sing. In pubs after games. In, well, pubs before games. And during games especially, at the stadiums, loudly. Fans create lyrics to popular ditties that celebrate their favored teams’ prowess, or mock chosen rivals. They raise their voices constantly, broken only by rare moments when players actually score. You can hear this tumult during soccer broadcasts, a perpetual hum beneath TV announcers. As a soccer fan, I love the spectacle. I’d sing along if I knew the words!

Well, a few weeks back, the USA national soccer team was playing. And as per usual at sporting events, just before kickoff, someone sang the national anthem. You know the drill. A person on the field belts The Star Spangled Banner with gusto. The home crowd might sing along, but barely audible, right? Usually the solo performer controls the tempo, the pitch, holding “Land of the Freeeee” longer than necessary. Sometimes the performance is understated. Sometimes it’s defiantly unique. But always, Always, the solo performer carries the song.

Except in this instance. At this game, the Kansas City crowd acted like…soccer fans. They sang along to the national anthem. Loudly. Brazenly. Thus, they utterly ignored the unspoken expectation that the on-field singer controls the singing. It was almost comical, if you ask me. The singer set one tempo, the crowd followed, until the singer slowed down for a run of vocal gymnastics. Meaning suddenly, she was totally out-of-synch with the crowd, who lumbered along. A kind of vocal battle ensued. The singer kept on as planned, forcing the fans back in step, until another miscommunication occurred and another readjustment was required. It was as surreal a national anthem as I’ve ever witnessed.

And it seemed like an unplanned metaphor worth me reading too much into. For isn’t life frequently styled a conflict between individual initiative and crowd mentality? On the one hand is the lone singer, the heroically creative savant. S/he bucks the trend, tries something new, overwhelms the masses through brilliance. On the other hand is the teeming throng, following the beat of a boring drummer. Slovenly devoted to the status quo, this collective deplores inventiveness.

Shane, you’ll say, that’s waaaay too simple a diagnosis of modern society. And you’re right, but it’s believed by many. Besides, it helps me make a point… Which is that I believe something that’s possible- not pervasive, but it happens- is that sometimes a crowd creates something spectacular. Creativity, in other words, can be as communal as it can be singular. Take Wikipedia. It’s a publicly controlled encyclopedia where anyone’s allowed to edit and input information. Some deplore this ‘open source’ method as obviously susceptible to error. Yet some studies found that in many instances it’s as reliable as Encyclopedia Britannica. When writing research papers, you should use more academic sources. But as a quick primer on unknown subjects, free-to-use Wikipedia’s quite useful.

Or take religion. Many believe that religious ideas result primarily from lone champions. Paul. St. Francis. Mother Theresa. I, too, celebrate these faith heroes, but the whole story is bigger. It’s also one of communities discovering new avenues of spirituality and compassion, together. Like Disciples on the American frontier, coming together for the sake of Unity. Like bunches of African-American churches, working together for Civil Rights. In both instances, celebrated leaders often get the credit. But Barton Stone and MKL Jr. wouldn’t have been as effective without creative crowds urging them on.

Which is why, for at least that one game, I’d have loved if this happened: Once the national anthem singer realized that this crowd was so excited to sing, so excited to support their team, so energized to laud their nation that they sang loudly, proudly, together, as one, then rather than raise her voice above their voices, rather than struggle for Star Spangled supremacy, she dropped the mic, smiled at the stands and joined the communal singing. It wouldn’t have solved our country’s disgusting divisiveness. It wouldn’t have redefined the national anthem. But for that moment, it would’ve symbolized that beautiful things can happen when we work as one.

Grace and Peace,

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