Blue Hill conductor, composer and educator George Emplen will lead a carol singalong at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8, at the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill. PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGE EMLEN

More than words



By Nan Lincoln

Special to The Ellsworth American

BLUE HILL — If George Emlen ruled the world, one suspects that singing would be a mandatory activity all over the globe, to be practiced with gusto at least once a day and preferably with friends and neighbors.

Ever since he was in high school in Philadelphia — let’s say 50 years ago — and directed the student choir for its daily chapel services, the Blue Hill resident has been doing his part to get folks to raise their voices in joyful noise.

In Maine and Massachusetts, he has been a composer, conductor and musical director of many church and secular venues and events including the Boston area’s Christmas Revels and most recently a hymn singalong he organized in recent weeks at the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill drawing some 60 or 70 people. He is now planning a carol singalong at the church at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8.

“Singing together is a basic human need,” Emlen said. “But since we started being able to record music, in the 20th century, we have become more music consumers rather than music makers.

“While some of us sing in the shower or our cars, most have forgotten or never learned how good it feels to sing with a group, chorus or choir,” Emlen continued. “For one thing it gives people a sense of security — they can sing out without being self-conscious. For another, it’s a social activity — it even increases the output of endorphins which is restorative and energizing. It feels good and it is good.”

He has no patience with people who claim they can’t sing.

“Let’s just peel back that myth,” he says. “Everyone can and should sing.”

He cites as an example a course he teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mass., for people who want to strengthen their leadership skills in politics, business, academia, what have you.

“At first,” Emlen said, “it was hard to get a note out of the students, many of whom had been told at some point in their lives that they couldn’t sing and to stop trying. But by the end of the class, all 70 or so were singing and even conducting one another.”

Really, what could be better training than choral singing for learning how to find one’s place in a company of peers, learn their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses and how best to work with them?

Emlen says many of the people who came to his recent hymn sing were no longer regular church goers, but they wanted to reconnect with the lovely music from their past and that spine-tingling feeling one gets from being a part of a group making beautiful music.

“Getting people to sing is my favorite thing to do,” said Emlen, who was so surprised and delighted by the success of the last event, it energized him to think of other ways to get folks out to sing in celebration of some holiday, event or just for the fun of it.

Everyone is urged to participate in this carol sing, Dec. 8 to get in the Christmas spirit, if that is their faith, or just for the sheer restorative pleasure of singing together, if it is not.

Emlen says not to worry if the words to some of the old carols have faded from memory as he will be passing out booklets with the notes and lyrics to most of the traditional tunes — “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and such.

“People have wonderful memories of singing carols this time of year,” Emlen says. “So let’s make some more of them.”

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.
Nan Lincoln

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