Why We Sing by Julia Hollander

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

How many times have we heard people say that they “could not sing for peanuts”? When it comes to using the musical instrument called our voice the outcomes are mixed. Some people can hold a note beautifully while others can’t seem to hit any note let alone the right one.

Yet, as Julia Hollander points out in her book Why We Sing, singing can make us feel good. Sometimes we find that we can sing in some places but not in others. There are those who enjoy singing in the shower but would baulk at singing in public at a church service or other event. Whatever our preference, singing is in our DNA. Humans have been singing since time immemorial and no doubt will continue to sing for the foreseeable future. We sing to celebrate good times and we sing as we look for hope when times get tough.

Hollander offers us both a personal memoir of her life as a professional singing teacher and performer and a relatively detailed examination of what drives both our physical bodies and our psyche to sing. It doesn’t matter whether we are singing along with our favourite music on the radio or streaming device or are part of a more organised group of singers such as a choir. The aim, says Hollander, is to sing and keep singing.

Hollander’s examination of the science of singing takes us through all forms of our lives from birth to old age and finally to death when our time on earth comes to an end. We often hear about foetuses who have responded when their mother sings or plays different styles of music. A child’s response to singing is very different from an adult’s. As we get older so our musical tastes change. As well there is also the desire to shy away from singing because we fear what others will say about our musical abilities hence the statement I posed at the beginning of this review.

In celebrating humanity’s desire to sing, Hollander brings her personal experience into the discussion. She includes stories of how the power of singing has often changed a situation or brought comfort and joy into tense situations. Like a lot of books being written at the moment she shows the effect of Covid lockdowns in the United Kingdom that prevented people from singing anywhere and how it took some time before the music of voice was able to penetrate the fog of life at the time.

Anyone who loves to sing should read this book. We could also say that those who long to sing but haven’t quite found the courage should read this book as well. The book encourages us to sing and not care about how our singing is received. After all it is a natural part of life in all parts of the animal kingdom.

Julia Hollander is a singing therapist, teacher and performer. At the age of 25, she was the first female opera director at the English National Opera. She has staged operas all over the world including for the Victoria State Opera. Julia is the author of Chicken Coops for the Soul and When the Bough Breaks.

Why We Sing

by Julia Hollander


Allen & Unwin

ISBN 978 176087 968 6

$34.99; 356pp


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