Singin’ in the rain (and the snow, and the sunshine….)

Nostalgia:  a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Do you have a happy place or event from your past, one that elicits perhaps a mixed array of emotions?  Glad you got to have that experience in that place, but sad that it’s over?   Maybe it was your participation in the citywide orchestra.  Perhaps it was the school gym where you got together with your first love at afterschool dances.  You wouldn’t be who you are today without those experiences.  Wishing yourself into a time machine won’t bring you back there, though.  Trying – and failing – to replicate the original experience, maybe by visiting the place, might bring on nostalgia’s gloomier cousin, melancholy. 

My nostalgia occasionally drifts into melancholy, especially by way of music.  I have been known to repeatedly play my favorite make-out songs from 1968, the Year of the First Boyfriend, with whom I foolishly broke up for reasons I still don’t quite comprehend.  Listening to The Look of Love and This Guy’s in Love With You can put a damper on my day for sure.  The capacity of a melody to affect one’s emotional state is both intense and mystifying.   Torturing myself with music from a very formative – and sweet – time in my life, it’s as if I want to be miserable.  

My therapist reminds me about the guy who doesn’t understand why his head continues to hurt when he continues to bang it against the wall, but the pain disappears when he stops banging. In other words, stop playing the music that makes me sad.

But for creating a positive, intense musical experience, there’s nothing like singing.  

Singing is often recommended for people with Parkinson’s because, for some patients, loss of vocal power and monotonous speech are symptoms of the disease. Those who sing may regain vocal strength and improve breathing and swallowing.

Even more powerful is the evidence for the benefits of singing in a group.  There have been academic papers written on group singing as a vehicle for building community.  The activity causes the body to release endorphins, which in turn promotes positive feelings along with a deep sense of belonging.  One study showed that cortisol, the stress hormone, was lower in those who sang with others.  Singing collectively can also imbue participants with a sense of well-being, and even elation. 

The memories of my happy place are inextricably connected with singing. I firmly believe that the near-constant bursting into song at Camp Mataponi, an all-girls camp in Naples, Maine, helped invest my nine summers there with joy. And in the process, perhaps because of all those endorphins, I was able to become the more self-assured person I yearned to be, at least for the summer.

I recall vividly my first night at camp. I was nine, and assigned to a cabin with three other girls, two of whom I knew slightly from Hebrew school, and the third a New Yorker I’d never met. All four of us were tucked in for the night, the other three girls weeping softly when a woman who wasn’t our counselor entered the bunk. I heard Lee, the director’s wife, go from bed to bed, talking in soothing tones to every sobbing girl. I didn’t understand why everyone was crying until Lee got to me and asked “Do you miss your mommy?” I had no clue as to why that would be the case, but at least now I knew why everyone was crying. I somehow realized that I was expected to say yes, I missed my mommy, while managing to summon up a few crocodile tears.

And now you might have some notion as to why camp loomed so large in my psyche, and still does. No parental fighting, no unclear set of rules I was always unwittingly breaking and being punished for, no unrealistic expectations for, well, every single aspect of life.  At camp, I was free!!!!

And I flourished. Back home, I was shy and insecure, uncomfortable in social situations, and always afraid of getting into trouble for some infraction, even though I was a good student and a very obedient child (except when I broke the rules I didn’t know existed).

The all-girls environment probably had something to do with my blossoming at camp. I had lots of friends and, miracle of miracles, I became a leader. In a single summer I was elected color war captain of the green team and given the lead in Annie Get Your Gun. I was popular at our socials with neighboring boys’ camps.

Emblematic of the role of singing at camp was the crooning that followed Friday night Sabbath services.  As a younger camper, I couldn’t wait till I got old enough to stay late, when those who wished to could remain for the sheer pleasure of joining our voices in song.  No one noticed the hardness of the social hall benches, or that some of us could barely carry a tune.  What mattered was that we were all friends together for the summer, singing our hearts out as one, as Phil, the music director, accompanied us to Old Man River, One Little Candle, and Green Fields.To me, and I suspect to others, the singing was the true spiritual part of our Sabbath.

A couple of years ago, a camp friend (who was my “little sister” one summer) organized a Zoom sing-a-long. With Mataponi surely the singing-est camp around, it was only fitting that we’d reunite to recapture our youth with music. Before me on my computer appeared nearly 100 screens featuring childhood intimates singing our hearts out as we had when we were eleven. It was happiness personified.

Every once in a while, I’ll hear a song from an old musical, and it brings me back to Mataponi, to those warm Friday nights, Phil at the piano, leading us all in song.

I haven’t sung much in years, but a few days ago I was in my car, and decided to check out my newly-acquired Pandora app, which featured a 60’s playlist.  I have done Karaoke maybe three times in my life, and my go-to song is Be My Baby by the Ronettes.  And up it popped on Pandora!  Naturally, I began to sing with gusto at the top of my lungs, and naturally, to feel a little bit joyful.  

When I arrived home a few minutes later, I kept the app on, and sang some more, with the addition of …..dancing! I’m a pretty lousy dancer but I honestly don’t care. I sang and danced for about half an hour to those songs of my youth, but perhaps because of the singing, I didn’t feel sad. Just a little bit wistful, but mainly just a little bit blissful.

I’ll continue to sing and dance as part of my Parkinson’s treatment.  Because I’m all for things that make me healthy….and happy.

22 thoughts on “Singin’ in the rain (and the snow, and the sunshine….)

  1. Anonymous

    What a wonderful walk down a Mataponi memory lane. Mataponi summers are the most precious times of my childhood. It is amazing how many show tune lyrics I still remember after all the musicals — miraculously put on after a few short weeks of rehearsals. Thanks for sharing these touching personal stories.


  2. Lori Gettinger Stock

    Andi, this was fantastic. I loved everything about our camp days and loved all of the singing after services, in the dining hall and the comraderie of our Mataponi sisters. I am so glad you are singing again and would give anything to hear your Annie Get Your Gun singing again. Keep posting and stay well. We are so lucky we got to experience Mataponi with Sam and Lee and love how it shaped us in so many ways.


  3. Lynn Aaronson

    Hi Andi. I went to Camp Truda, also a girls camp in Casco, ME- not far from Mataponi. I loved my camp years as well. I feel that I got my leadership skills there and made some good friends along the way. Singing out loud is very therapeutic. We did it all the time at camp. I also love to sing at Temple. I recently retired from The ALS Association and moved to Sarasota,FL. I know people at both American Parkinson Fdn and National Parkinson Fdn if you need a referral or additional info. Happy to help. Take care.
    Lynn White Aaronson


  4. Andi! I loved this piece! Especially this: “To me, and I suspect to others, the singing was the true spiritual part of our Sabbath.” And the next paragraph about the Zoom sing-a-long! And the bit about the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” (My favorite song too! But you knew that!)
    I wasn’t quite sure about why Camp Mataponi’s Director’s wife Lee asked the girls if the missed their mommys. Sounds kind of cruel, not poignant.
    Also poignant: How you were “always afraid of getting into trouble…”
    Also liked how you got the lead in “Annie Get Your Gun”! (One of my favorite Broadway musicals too!)
    Good job, Andi! Looking forward the next installment!


  5. Jacob Bloom

    Now you have me wondering what song frm Annie Get Your Gun we could dance to. Anything You Can Do changes tempos too often. Perhaps No Business Like Show Business. Any suggestions?


  6. Anonymous

    Hi Andi, It’s Lissy Landau. Loved your blog. Camp was such a special time for all of us., Hope you are doing well. Keep writing.


  7. Andi

    OMG, Lissy!!! How wonderful to hear from you. Camp was indeed special – so lucky we were to have had that experience. Take care, Lissy!


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