a peek inside the fishbowl

03 Jan, 2008

Silence v. Singing

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

Last night I went to a friend’s house for an evening of crafting, wine and nosh. There were about ten women there, some of whom I knew and some I didn’t. There was a lot of knitting. I was sewing felt circles for my garland … which I’m aiming to complete for Christmas 2008. (I’ve since supershrunk a pretty sweater and am using it for little circles too. Woot!)

Just before I was heading out I watched a few minutes of The Sound of Music with Mark and the girls.

I love that movie, I always have. I’ve watched it every year since I can remember. It took me years to figure out what actually happened at the end because I’d always fall asleep right around the time they were escaping through the darkened abbey.

Mark had never seen the movie before, which I found totally incomprehensible. DUDE, IT IS A CLASSIC. Sadly, he didn’t think much of it. But I have to admit, if I was a 45-year old man who saw it for the first time I’d probably think it was kind of lame too. Perhaps I think it’s so good because it’s been a major part of my film-watching life, and I have a 30 year connection to it… 

The parts I saw before I left for the evening included “My Favourite Things,” followed by “Doe a Deer.” I love the little musical phrase: “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most eeennnn-ee-thiiiing.” It’s the kind of thing I see myself bursting into on the street when the sky is blue and the birds are singing. (Click for five happy minutes on YouTube… I love the whole stretch of it, but the bit I’m referring to clocks in at 3:33.)

Oh bless those seven curtain-clothed cherubs running around picture-postcard Saltzburg with their crazy nun governess. What can I say? The whole thing makes me smile.

So last night Emma was next to me on the couch, singing along, “doe a deer, a female deer…” and, oh, I hate to say this but…

… she wasn’t hitting the notes. Singing is not something that comes naturally to her.

Emma loves to sing. She’s in the choir at school. She loves to belt out a tune. After all, singing is fun. Sarah is the more musical one in the family. She’s better at hitting the notes. She likes to sing too, and also joined the choir this year.

This is where I often run into a parenting conundrum. Both of the kids like to sing, but it’s invariably at opposing times. When one kid is singing the other one almost always demands silence. It’s an ongoing issue in our house.

Most of the time it will happen in the car. Emma will start singing and Sarah will whine and moan, demanding she stop. And most of the time she won’t even ask nicely.  Does Emma’s right to sing trump Sarah’s right to quiet?

When they’re home they’re always together. It’s rare they partake in separate activities. So it’s always the same debate.

I mentioned it to one of the moms at last night’s crafting session. I asked her what she does in this situation. (She also has two kids.) “Oh,” she said. “The singer has the right to sing!” She seemed pretty certain on this one, but I’m not so certain at all. 

Oh sure, sometimes I pull rank and demand quiet when I’ve truly had enough, although I really really try to let the kids sing if they want to. Sometimes when we’re outdoors I’ll start us all singing (yes, out loud) in my own off-key melody…. but ultimately I think the right to silence is equal to the right to sing. No one should be forced to listen to singing they don’t want to, don’t you think?

In the meantime I’ve asked Emma to sing quietly if she wants to sing. And no singing at the dinner table. 


8 Responses to "Silence v. Singing"

1 | MommaTaderDoodles

January 3rd, 2008 at 9:54 am


Oh, if only I could get some silence! Both mine sing, one is a bit more soprano, the other a bit more alto… both at the top of their lungs (unless you actually ask them to sing). They either try to sing the same song at the same time, totally annoying the other who wants to sing alone, or they force me to listen to two totally different songs simultaneously. Angels we have heard on high was NOT meant to be sung in conjunction with The Judds “Have Mercy”…. NEVER…

Wish I had an answer for you, but silence is never an answer at our house… the louder the better is their belief.

2 | Marla

January 3rd, 2008 at 10:26 am


Hey! WE…I mean Josie…received the Sound of Music for Christmas too, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Captain Von Trapp – rowrrrr!

And I have to laugh too, because Maria gets the dream – the Captain (rowrrr), the adorable talented family, the house (for a while) and a gorgeous wedding (and apparently a much-improved wardrobe past the honeymoon in Paris) – and she has to walk up the aisle to “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”.

Now I must say – I can’t sing well. (Neither can Steve, but I don’t tell him that either, and it doesn’t stop him from singing with his band.) I have a wispy, out of tune voice at best. But something happened to my diaphragm when I had Josie, and it got a little better – and I’ve always done well at reading music and natural harmonizing. So I believe it had a lot to do with relaxing my breathing, and practice, because I love to sing to and with my baby. Josephine loves to sing, and it’s hard to tell yet if her keening is spot-on, because often it’s just some weird warbling. All this leads to the fact that like Oprah, I’d like to take singing lessons one day, and I’d offer them to Josie too. So much can be improved with just a little attention.

I just read a biography of Ella Fitzgerald, and one of the things that made her great was not that she had perfect pitch, but that she had perfect relative pitch – she could sing any note well in relation to another or to the band. Hence her mad scatting skillz. That’s something that can be improved on, where a sense timing and other things may never get better.

As for the rights of the singer versus those who are affected by it? My mom used to go batshit crazy over this old guy who would wander through the grocery store early on Sunday mornings when we used to take my grandma shopping. He’d sing opera, and very well at that. His voice filled up the vegetable section, and I admired his ability and courage; and my mom was more than annoyed. She’d make rude remarks about it right out loud. This roused a slew of old feelings in me, and I remembered how I often felt stifled as a kid – It seemed then she didn’t like real people singing, only people on the radio. And now, it’s true- she still doesn’t like anyone doing something out of the norm. And when she shushes Josie, it makes me livid.

So I am on team “Let the singer sing” – and while I do agree that there’s a right to quiet – I think it depends on whether that quiet is in reaction to the singing, or whether it’s quiet for its own sake. And the continuation of the singing depends on whether it’s still being done for joy of it, versus the determination to needle the one wanting quiet. Because once I learned how it pushed my mom’s buttons, I’d sing loud, and long, and deliberately off-key as often as possible. Once, all the way to South Carolina.

3 | mel

January 3rd, 2008 at 10:43 am


Oh goodness… this spills over into so many areas of parenting for me. There are always two sides, aren’t there? On one hand, Kidlette shouldn’t be completely disrespectful of whether or not she is annoying someone (especially intentionally). On the other hand, Kidder shouldn’t think that the world revolves around him. And on the other (third) hand, CAN’T YOU JUST GET ALONG?

4 | Jen

January 3rd, 2008 at 11:55 am


My daughter (who loves to sing, but is usually off-key like Emma) was given a High School Musical karaoke game for Christmas… so the singing only stops for meals, bath time, and sleep around here!

5 | Sheila D.

January 3rd, 2008 at 12:40 pm


I heard a clip on CBC this week that I found so inspiring I wrote down a note to myself – “look into this!” I don’t know if kids are welcome too, but you might check it out. It’s about “Come Sing” at St. Luke’s Anglican Church on Somerset Street, held the first Wednesday evening of every month.
It’s not about religion. It’s about finding joy in your own voice. I love to sing but can’t hold a tune in a bucket. The audio clips they played sounded amazing.

6 | Karen

January 3rd, 2008 at 2:18 pm


Yes, that is a tough one. I’m not sure what I’ll do when faced with the same thing. Which is inevitable I’m afraid.

7 | Javamom

January 3rd, 2008 at 9:02 pm


My little toddler loves to sing. He sings totally off-tune, mostly Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, but also some nursery rhymes or made-up songs, and all with such heartfelt enjoyment, we just find it too cute to correct him or make him stop. BUT, he has recently started to stutter. At first I didn’t really notice, but now it’s been a few weeks and I’m beginning to worry. It’s worse when he’s tired. We did notice that he never stutters when he sings. So, when he gets overly excited or tired and stutters his words and sentences, we ask him to sing what he’s trying to say, without drawing attention to the stuttering. He does, completely off tune, but without the stutter. So…what’s better? Sing off-tune without the stutter, or don’t sing but stutter? Personally I prefer the silence but that’s probably too much to ask…

8 | Maylynn

January 4th, 2008 at 2:35 pm


I have very similar issues with my children, and also in the car, where of course it is not possible to just ask them to go to different rooms and have the singing/quiet they each prefer.

I’m with you. In a general way, disregarding either party’s potential motivations of sibling button-pushing, I don’t think it’s obvious that the right to sing trumps the right to quiet. I have considered this same question in the past for my own sake: when I want to do something in silence, or even read a book, and someone else (I’m talking about adults in this case) wants to talk to me, why is it considered rude if I don’t want to talk, but not so much when they want to interrupt my silence. The social niceties favor the extrovert over the introvert, I think.

I hope I’m not appearing to be an antisocial grouch, in this, my first appearance in your comments. I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for a long time, and this is a question that speaks to me enough to prompt me to comment. I do of course enjoy conversation; I also relish opportunities for quiet.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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