Solo In The Silo


Farmers like to sing while they work because they think no one can hear them. They especially like to sing on the tractor where the motor noise improves their singing by drowning out the raw edges of their voices. They also think the motor drowns out their renditions from the neighbors’ ears but just the opposite is true. Their hearty wails carry better than the motor noise and scare cows and neighbors several hundred acres downwind.

My father did not know there were raw edges to his voice. He was as tone deaf as a stump which is probably why his favorite barn song was “Oh What A Beautiful Morning.” The first line of this song’s chorus contains probably the most difficult passage to render correctly in all of American music. If you can manage the first seven notes dead on key, a cappella, you are ready for anything Brahms, Mozart, or Handel can throw at you. Dad didn’t know or care if he hit the right exact notes. He just sang because the words of the song expressed his happiness.

If by some miracle, he got through “Oh-What-A-Beautiful” okay, he was sure to murder the first syllable of “Morning,” his voice sliding desperately from one half note to another all over the scale. Every morning, the rest of the family would wait, from other parts of the barn, for him to intone the song, and then we would lapse into fits of laughter as “Morning” came out sounding like the bearings on an old disk that have not been greased for three years.

The best place to sing on the farm is in the silo— in the spring when it is nearly empty.  Singing in the shower does not at all compare to it. The round silo walls send the forlorn wailings of the human voice up into the stratosphere with amplification equal to a bank of Fender loudspeakers at a rock concert. A friend likes to tell about a hired man he once had named Zeke. As so many hired men used to be, Zeke was shy and quiet most of the time, without much concourse with the rest of society. It was difficult to pry more than two words at a time out of him. The only place he was seen regularly other than the farm was in church. Then he discovered the marvelous way that a silo could increase the decibel count of any sound, especially the human voice. In the silo, years of pent up silence and bashfulness fell from him. He could see no other human, nor could other humans see him. He figured he was alone with God. He liked the hymns he had heard and memorized in church since childhood, especially the Latin ones, no doubt because of the sonorous roll of the Latin vowels when emanating from a silo measuring 20 feet in diameter by 50 feet tall.

One morning, my friend likes to recall, a salesman arrived at the farm and came striding across the barnyard, his mind no doubt full of visions of the wondrous corn planter he thought he was about to sell. About then, Zeke, alone in the silo, cut loose with the ancient hymn, “Panis Angelicus.” The sound roared up the silo, scattering both the pigeons roosting in the top of the wall and the clouds above.

“Panis angelicuuuu-uusssss
Fit panis hominuu-uuum
Da-aaat panis coelicus
Figuris terminuuuu-ummmm”

The salesman stopped dead in his tracks, looking up, down, sideways. Surely some wild beast or mad bull was penned in that barn someplace. He started backing away and when the awful bellowing did not stop, broke into a run, jumped in his car, and roared away.

I like to think that farmers sing because for the most part, farming is a happy, satisfying life.  Many days, the morning IS beautiful, the corn IS as high as an elephant’s eye, the old weeping willow IS laughing at me, and all the sounds of the earth ARE like music. YES!


Re: the many opportunities for music on the farm:

My first husband learned to play the harmonica while cultivating tobacco and spent many hours on the tractor improving his technique. He went on to become a professional harmonica musician! Of course he could do this because playing harmonica only requires one hand; it would have been difficult to practice the guitar on the tractor 🙂 I bet he would have sounded really good in a silo playing Orange Blossom Special…

When I was in college I minored in music, and I never got comfortable singing in those little practice rooms with the windows on the doors, knowing everybody could hear my mistakes as I learned some ridiculous piece of Handel or Strauss. There wasn’t even the pretense of privacy. Well, obviously what I needed was a silo. I may have to find one, and dig the sheet music out of the attic. I wonder how goats feel about opera…

Oh how funny, just the other day I was saying to my husband that we really ought to set up some hay bales in the old silo and invite the whole town out on Sundays for a good old fashioned “SING” as in “Sing your lungs out and eat lots of food and drink beer to celebrate the JOY of the Lahd” sing.


Grain bins also work nicely for crooning a tune. I once took my guitar to an empty bin and had a great concert for me and the crows!

Hey, there’s an idea for post-corn usage of massive grain bins- concert halls!

I wish the whole world had had a dad that sang “O What A Beautiful Morning” every day–on key or not!

Oh, Lord, needed spell check; that’s ‘luckily”!

As the wife of a rancher who has a nice voice but is tone deaf, while I have perfect pitch and can still sing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” on key, I can sympathize with other couple who are mismatched in this respect. I kid you not — when my husband tunes up, the cats run and hide. I love him anyway, and uckily, we don’t have a silo…

I figure the plants and animals like to hear singing, too. There’s been lots of interesting research on how plants respond well to certain kinds of music and negatively to others. Surely the farmer’s voice is music to their ears (although perhaps the plants are scared of many of today’s farmers because of the poor treatment they receive).

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