Teaching the world to hear

By Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 5/11/24

In this From the Mound, National Music Week and Mother's Day are both acknowledged

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Teaching the world to hear


“I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company”
“I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” — The Hillside Singers

Imagine “the best part of waking up/is Folgers in your cup” becoming a top-10 Billboard song. That’s basically what happened with this tune.

Originally written by advertisers for Coca-Cola, the song began as a jingle written for another ad altogether, titled “True Love and Apple Pie.”

That jingle didn’t catch on, but when Bill Backer and Billy Davis rewrote the tune for Coca-Cola, they struck gold with the lyrics “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”

The folk group The New Seekers recorded the commercial for Coca-Cola, and the jingle became so popular in 1971 that radio DJs were getting requests for the ad!

The writers rewrote the tune to be radio-friendly, but when they went to record the song, The New Seekers were unavailable to record, so a group of studio singers (musicians who would record songs for songwriters to potentially sell to “big” artists) got together, calling themselves The Hillside Singers, in reference to the imagery in the iconic commercial.

The New Seekers saw the success of the song and suddenly became available to record a version of the song, and their version released two months after the Hillside Singers’ version.

Both songs actually ranked among the top 100 songs of 1972, according to Billboard.

Fans of the AMC series Mad Men will recall that the commercial would end up in the series finale of the iconic series, implying that series lead Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, was the person who originated the idea for the iconic advertisement.

May 5-12, 2024, was National Music Week, and it’s fitting for me that the week ends on Monther’s Day this year.

Studies have, time and time again, indicated that those who take music lessons and are exposed to learning music at a young age develop stronger neural pathways, especially in the realm of discernment and decision-making.

Add in that taking on a new instrument after the age of 50 is shown to significantly slow cognitive decline, and the power of music is hard to underestimate.

Growing up, music was simply part of life, so learning was consistently happening!

Family gatherings would frequently involve someone sitting down at the piano and leading a room full of relatives in a sing-a-long. Heck, we even had song sheets that were printed out and distributed among those in the room to call out favorite tunes for the next song to sing as a group.

One of my favorite memories from the very end of my grandmother’s life is her contacting me to sing for church with her. She was going to play organ, and she wanted me to sing along with her playing for an upcoming church service.

We practiced a couple of times before Sunday, and during one of the practices, she looked at me with tears in the corner of her eyes and stated simply, “Thank you so much for doing this.”

I responded that I loved to sing with her; even more when she sang with me (Grandma Shirley had an amazing voice that I can still hear when certain hymns are played in church), and she told me that she wouldn’t be able to “this time,” indicating that we’d sing more later.

When my mother’s father passed this last fall, it was not even a question whether the grandkids would be singing at the funeral.

His son, six grandchildren, and even one grandchild-in-law put together multiple pieces for the service.

After the funeral, as we sat around the family room, enjoying young ones crawling and toddling around, a request was made to sing. Soon, we had someone at the piano and began singing as a family, healing our grief through shared music together.

My mother had four boys with genetic talent gifted from both sides of the family. Piano lessons began nearly alongside the beginning of formal school, but we were tinkering around on the upright piano at home long before that!

She spent hours practicing with her sons when it came time for vocal contest, beginning in middle school.

As my childhood best friend, Arlo, and I were practicing a duet with intricate harmony before a middle school music contest, she encouraged us to “listen to each other…hear each other.”

She then gave an outward, “That’s it!” when we nailed the harmony.

Encouraging us to not just listen to one another, but to hear one another was vital.

It began with music, hearing the intricacy of pitch within harmony and how being just a hair off the correct pitch would create distortion that would be noticeable by even an untrained ear.

So much of that translates to life.

It’s not happenstance that my mother raised four sons who are able to relate to others well because we’re not just listening to what is said but hearing what’s underneath the words on the surface.

In my own life, that’s been a skill that was vital in my work in ministry and social work and has become a very important part of conducting an interview in my role as a reporter - not just listening to the responses to questions, but hearing what is being said rather than simply preparing the next question as someone responds.

Our society needs to be able to hear one another as we struggle through more and more division being sowed by politicians at the national and even state level. Music is such an incredible asset in the world so we can be “in tune” with one another.

Interestingly, most of the most influential people in my music development were not just women, but also mothers.

That instruction never truly goes away, either. Just this past week, my mother and her mother showed up for a piano recital by one of my daughters. Four generations of music love in one room, with that passion being engrained to have the love of music last for generations to come.

It's hard to have a negative worldview when music and music education can continue to be passed on to our children, allowing them to learn how to hear one another - and not just in music class.

Happy National Music Week…and happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing mothers out there!