The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 26, 2011

There’s a song in the air ... out there somewhere

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

— “As long as we live, there is never enough singing.” — Martin Luther

In the 1930 popular song “Sing, You Sinners,” listeners are urged to “Let the melody and harmony ring; lift arms up to heaven and sing, sing you sinners.”

Singing is therapeutic. It can boost the spirit, ease stress, help us express our innermost feelings.

It also makes for good television, apparently. Not only does Fox top the ratings each year with “American Idol,” but NBC has just trotted out “The Voice,” a new singing competition featuring celebrity judges.

Singing can be lucrative if you are any good at it. Hit it big with your voice and you can be set for life.

Singing is a bit like golf, you can take part in it and have a great deal of fun doing it no matter your ability level. However, in the case of both activities the amount of irritation experienced by those in the immediate vicinity will increase exponentially as the ability level of the singer and/or golfer decreases.

Even if your voice makes those around you sick, however, the simple act of singing can keep you quite well, indeed.

Robert Beck, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine, tested a group of singers who performed Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.”

After performing the five-movement piece that takes some 85 minutes to complete, the singers’ saliva displayed increased levels of an infection-fighting antibody called IgA. The levels increased some 240 percent in the spit of these hearty choristers.

So besides popping vitamin C, gulping echinacea or tippling elderberry juice, you can ward off disease by cutting loose with a song. If Beethoven seems a bit ambitious, you could always try “Roll Over, Beethoven,” by Chuck Berry.

You could sing along to the radio, join in with some commercial jingle on television or perform a wet, soapy aria while in the shower.

Or you could belt out your rendition of Oklahoma’s newest state song.

“Oklahoma!” the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical evergreen, still is the official state song. But it has company.

On Monday the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 89-0 (Who says they can’t agree on anything?) to designate the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” as the state’s official gospel song.

A Choctaw freedman named Wallis Willis wrote the song in 1862 in Indian Territory. The Red River reminded Willis of the Jordan, so he based the song on the biblical passage about Elijah being taken up to heaven in a chariot.

“As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” — 2 Kings 2:11

The lyrics also were said to refer to the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape from the south to the north and across the border to Canada.

The first singers to record the piece were the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. The year was 1909.

Since then the song has been recorded by artists ranging from Benny Goodman to B.B. King, from Elvis Presley to Roadkill, from Gene Autry to Eric Clapton.

One of the most famous renditions was that presented by folk singer Joan Baez during the Woodstock festival in 1969.

Classical composer Antonin Dvorak was said to have borrowed from the melody of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” when he penned his “New World Symphony,” the Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, in 1893.

More recently the song has been a rallying cry for the English Rugby Union and that country’s national rugby team.

In 1988 the English side had lost 23 straight matches in the prestigious Five Nations Championship. The competition, now known as the Six Nations, pits rugby sides from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales against one another in an annual competition.

The 1988, English side found itself down 3-0 to Ireland at halftime. But in the second half, as fans enthusiastically sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” England scored six times and won 35-3.

The song’s tune is a bit mournful, but its lyrics are uplifting. “Sometimes I’m up, and sometimes I’m down, (coming for to carry me home) But still my soul feels heavenly bound (coming for to carry me home).”

My favorite is the refrain that says “If I get there before you do, (coming for to carry me home), I’ll cut a hole and pull you through, (coming for to carry me home).”

Our state now has an official song, an official state waltz “Oklahoma Wind,” an official rock song, “Do You Realize??” an official folk song “Oklahoma Hills,” an official country and western song, “Faded Love,” an official state children’s song, “Oklahoma, My Native Land,” and an official gospel song.

I don’t know that the state, with all the other issues facing our Legislature, needed an official gospel tune, but they certainly picked a good one.

Sing it with me now, “Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me ...” No, someone did not just commence to dancing the flamenco in a roomful of long-tailed cats, why?

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. E-mail him at