This is a tradition with deep roots in our family. My parents are among those who met through glee clubs, and my mother and her siblings all are wonderful singers. One aunt plays guitar and an uncle has a polychromatic harmonica, and when I was growing up they provided accompaniment to the evening sing-alongs. Now my cousin Margaret's husband Nicholas and their son Elihu strum the next generations through an ever growing set list of old standards and new favorites.
We know and enjoy some very odd songs. We sing "The Ship Titanic" with great exuberance, belting out its maudlin lines with glee and gusto. We love "The Cat Came Back" and The Old Family Toothbrush (That dirty old toothbrush...)" One of my aunts had a roommate at Smith College during the folk revival who introduced her to many songs that are now classics: "Tom Dooley"; "Dirty Old Town"; "Sloop John B". We know a lot of show tunes, ranging from Rogers and Hammerstein to "Corner of the Sky" and "The Rainbow Connection."
Through the years, new songs have been introduced that are as beloved for the current generations as the Kingston Trio, or for my grandparents (who courted by attending musicals). Elihu brought us "Barrett Privateers" from a sailing camp he attended, and it now is in almost nightly rotation (with me and my strong pipes singing the lead). We have relatives who live and work in Eastern Kentucky, so we are partial to Appalachian roots and mining songs of the likes of "Shady Grove" and "Dark as a Dungeon". The occasional Tom Lehrer and Flanders & Swann make it into our review. Last night, my Daughter Emily and I sang "I'm a Gnu" and "A Transport of Delight", and she managed to overshadow her Dad - no mean feat - to the delight of all. I also pulled out "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm" for the family's delectation.
Somethings requests were made for songs to which we did not remember all the chords or lyrics. For this, we have both an old school and new media solution available. We consult a well-loved copy of Rise Up Singing, and if that fails the iPhone generation can easily locate what we need only, I sang "If I were a Rich Man" and "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat" while peering at an iPhone screen (the later for the first time since I owned the stage as Nicely Nicely Johnson in my sophomore year of High School). The family encourages me to step up and put my pipes to good use, though there are many excellent singers and others who are delighted to join the chorus. My cousin Leila, for example, has become a wonderful songsmistress and carries us forward in grand style.
I do love a stage, but I also think they know I need to feel that love right now. The elephants in the room get to sing as well, even if they blend into the background. On summer nights when we gather together, well fed and sleepy from days of sun and sea, the music is love.