Poles are generally thought to avoid music. Musicians are talking about a deaf generation, blaming the education system – probably rightly – for all negligence. Singing died away in many churches, circles which until recently were eager to sing have also become silent. Sailors still sing – we can hear them near lakes, singing shanties, but shelter houses in the mountains, which in the 70s resounded with singing, have become silent.
We don’t know to what extent these tendencies are common for European culture countries. It is true that a hundred years ago, in order to have contact with music one had to either perform it oneself or listen to others. Ignacy Jan Paderewski was not renowned for selling his recordings, but in the United States he sold over one million copies of the score for his Minuet, which made him wealthy. Today, one only needs to turn on the radio, a CD player or to have the Internet connection. One doesn’t have to be able to play an instrument or to read music!
Musical crisis in Poland
In Poland, no research has been conducted to find out why we have stopped singing and playing instruments. Our fear of undertaking a task that we are not able to complete may be one of the reasons. The ability to sing and to play an instrument is a skill that one needs to acquire and then maintain, rather than the manifestation of one’s extraordinary talents. Yet, the number of choirs in Poland has decreased, brass bands have almost disappeared, increasingly less people become members of amateur bands, the national anthem sung by some politicians and athletes may be a source of embarrassment – this is unfortunately what differs us from other European countries. Only 6% of six-year olds and 33% of secondary-school graduates can correctly sing a simple song, which – in comparison with musical ability test results – suggests that the ability of a child to sing in tune may be an indicator of high abilities, while the inability to sing in tune is in the first place an indicator of the lack of experience and skills and only secondly may suggest a low level of abilities .
Waking up dormant reserves
At the same time, we can observe that many people sing or play an instrument when nobody listens. It is possible to make up for the lost time. One should only verify certain opinions and become aware of some facts:
– Simple musical compositions, such as songs for children and party songs, numerous church songs and songs characteristic of different environments (sailor songs and tourist songs) were written for amateurs and not for professionals. Whereas many pop songs have been written for professionals, so we’d better postpone dreams about singing them until later.
– It is much easier to start playing an instrument if one has some previous experience with singing – the easiest way to begin is to play a well-known melody by ear.
– The inability to sing in tune and to accurately play an instrument are both inherent in the beginnings of musical education. One should carefully listen to models presented by people who are better educated – it will teach us how to diagnose mistakes and become self-reliant as to what corrections should be made.
– Very often we can hear well, but we are unable to play or sing correctly.
(– Where is your trotodile? – a grandmother asks her grandson. – It’s not a trotodile, it’s a trotodile – the kid corrects her, because he knows that his grandmother should pronounce crocodile correctly!). When we hear that we do not sing in tune we are on the right track to sing correctly.
– The ability to hear the music in your head when the sound is not physically present constitutes the basis of all musical abilities. We should sing in our heads what we want to sing or play, if what we produce is still not ideal, we will see mistakes that we make.
– We can take pleasure in singing and playing the simplest compositions, the important thing is to find sense there and to sing and play them with joy.
– Music is like a language: Either our mother tongue, if we learn it from the earliest childhood, or a foreign language, if we start later. That is why we won’t learn it if we are only going to listen, we have to produce music: either by playing or singing. Anybody who has ever tried it, then shows greater interest when listening to others.
 Kamińska, B. Vocal competences of children and teenagers – their level, development and determinants. Warsaw 1997, AMFC.
 Finnäs, L. (1989): A comparison between young people’s privately and publicly expressed musical preferences. The Psychology of music, 17.
 Lawendowski, R. Osobowościowe uwarunkowania preferencji muzycznych w zależności od wieku. Kraków 2011, Impuls.
Kacper Miklaszewski (born in 1949) – was awarded an MA in Piano at the Rimski-Korsakov Conservatory in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) (1974), he also studied at the Music School, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1984, he got a PhD in the theory of music from the Chopin Academy of Music (currently Fryderyk Chopin University of Music) in Warsaw. In 2000-2010, he lectured on the basics of the psychology of music and he conducted a seminar on music criticism at the Institute of Musicology of the University of Warsaw. He is a musical journalist working inter alia for a music journal “Ruch Muzyczny” and for Program II Polskiego Radia (Polish radio channel).