How is it you sing?

What music to write about whilst in lockdown? I could probably write an essay on its multifaceted and adapted role in people’s lives! Lockdown has made me think about our relationship with music even more than usual. Whereas some musicians produce their best creative output during a breakup or low point in their life, I’m the opposite. Singing brings emotions of the singer bubbling to the surface, and it’s been extremely difficult to motivate myself to sing at home during the pandemic: I find it near impossible to sing when I’m sad!

When thinking about this blog piece, I was reminded of a song I used to sing regularly, years ago. Taken from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd it is a song that is sometimes cut from stage productions. This fact, along with the words themselves, reflect how many musicians have been grieving the loss of live performance, rehearsing and performing with others, and sharing their gift with audiences. Johanna, daughter of Sweeney, is kept locked up in Judge Turpin’s house under his “guardianship” until she is old enough for him to marry her. Johanna sings of her desire for freedom – her frustration at seeing the outside world but not being allowed out – comparing herself to a caged songbird. It ends with the resolution: If I cannot fly, let me sing! A reminder to me, and other musicians, that we can adapt and take joy from the current “normal”, even if it’s not the natural music-making we’re accustomed to and love.

Green finch, and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
How is it you sing?
How can you jubilate
sitting in cages
never taking wing?
Outside the sky waits

Just beyond the bars…
How can you remain
staring at the rain
maddened by the stars?
How is it you sing
How is it you sing?

Green finch. and linnet bird,
nightingale, blackbird
How is it you sing?
Whence comes this melody
constantly floating?
Is it rejoicing or merely aloaming?
Are you discussing?
Or fussing?
Or simply dreaming?
Are you crowing?
Are you screaming?

Ringdove and robinet
is it for wages?
Singing to be sold?
Have you decided it’s safer in cages
singing when you’re told?
My cage has many rooms
damask and dark…
Nothing there sings,
not even my lark.
Larks never will, you know,
when they’re captive.
Teach me to be more


Green Finch, and Linnet Bird,
nightingale, blackbird,
teach me how to sing.
If I cannot fly…
Let me sing!

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