A Courteous Contrararian

Happy Birthday

Written By: Jon - Jul• 04•12

I have a problem every time I sing Happy Birthday. I mean, besides not knowing where to send the royalty check. It happened again today.

When I sing Happy Birthday, it is always because somebody else started singing it first. Then everyone must join in, so as not to be rude. So first I have to decide whether to attempt the song in the leader’s octave or a new one. Rarely does anyone pick a key that is natural for my voice. Was this how the song was written – to be sung with difficulty – or does the type of personality that would initiate the song fit with a physiology that would naturally lend itself to an unnatural key?

This octave choice must be made quickly and instinctively, in the moment before I begin singing. If I make a bad choice, I still rarely switch octaves mid-song. I am married to my choice. Then I adjust my volume so as to not be too loud, yet not so quiet that the birthday person thinks I lip-syncing or phoning it in. I explore the possibility of singing harmony when we begin the next line. It might get me out of my mistaken octave choice. All of this has happened since the leader began singing and we are only about to finish the first line. Happy Birthday to You!

In the breath before we repeat the line, choices must be made based on these observations. Do I jump to a harmony? Do I give in and try the other octave? I choose and sing the second line. Now that I committed to my new choices, if any, i am free to sing and enjoy the honored’s reaction to our inspired song selection and distinctive talents. Happy Birthday to You!

A new thought occurs to me as we near the end of the line. Are any of the other singers likely to finish with the alternate ending, And Many More!? Because if they do, I’m for sure going for the harmony. I scan the personalities so to make an educated prediction.

And then it happens. My problem. Some people tell me I think too much. In this case I’ve thought too little.

I fail to anticipate, and so to properly calculate, the consensus relationship of the singers to singee. Happy Birthday BroPasDeartherter Bob!

It happened again today. I messed up the words of the easiest song on the planet. Three lines are the same and I always screw up the line that’s different. I’m not the only one. In a big group, you can get 4 or 5 different sets of lyrics.

Still, some people are very good at it. They properly assess the aggregate consensus of individual relationships and sing the same words as their newly realized and instantaneously formed majority. We should all be aware enough to do the same, shouldn’t we? When I sang it with my six year old to his mother, I was savvy enough to sing, Happy Birthday Dear Mommy!, even though my wife isn’t my mother…or, wait a minute…

Because we both sang Dear Mommy, I can surmise that those were the correct lyrics, or with a nod to our postmodern world, at least weakly assert that those were the correct lyrics for that situation. Why can’t I ever anticipate the correct lyrics for the given birthday situation?

Even in a group of friends, when there are no familial descriptors to contend with, just a person with a name, to gauge the correct lyrics is harder than it seems. Is it Happy Birthday Dear Ba-ob or Happy Birthday Ba-ah-ob. Or is it what I, and only I, sang today?

Happy Birthday Pastor Bob! Happy Birthday to you.

(And Many More)


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