Hey Sister Go Sister Soul Sister! There is the reassuring, familiar sound of women chatting in front and behind me, as we power along the harbour side bush track. A cool breeze provides some evening relief after a warm Sydney summer’s day. The current topic of our walking conversation is our decision to change our name, from the ironic Over the Hill, to a more upbeat Sole Sisters, a name which better expresses who we are. Of course, the conversation quickly turns to soul music to walk by.
Patti Labelle singing Lady Marmalade “Hey Sister Go Sister Soul Sister”, more recently remade by Christina Aquilera, is the first song mentioned. Soon we are riffing along having fun with the theme. These boots are made for walking. Walking on Sunshine. Every breath you take. Hey, Soul Sister. Movin’ on up.
The association of music with group exercise pre-dates the gym aerobics or spin class. It is an essential human characteristic that goes way back. The connection between music and motion has been used in groups as diverse as chain gangs, Roman galleys, and trance dances around ancient camp fires. Music gets you on your feet, and your body moves to synchronise with the beat. Music sustains you, taking your mind off other things, like sore feet that have already tramped a fair distance in this evening’s walk.
But we don’t have ear phones plugged in, and we don’t sing as we walk. Our level of exertion on a brisk training walk is such that we can talk, but not sing. As the exertion level goes up with climbing, we are quiet so that we can focus on breathing. There’s a natural orchestral rhythm to our chatter, as it bounces back and forth from one voice to the next, interspersed with moments of silence. The volume levels rise and fall as we speed up and spread out on a flat stretch, or bunch up at an obstacle like a fallen tree. The conversation flows at it’s own tempo from light hearted laughter through to considered serious moments.
Our chatter serves the same purpose as music in taking our mind off our muscular aches, but more than that, by the end of the walk we’ve resolved deep matters of the heart as well. We’ve passed judgement on politicians, planned dinners, patched up relationships, peer reviewed significant life decisions and prepared ourselves to face the rest of the week. While the walking keeps our bodies healthy, the talking takes care of our souls.
The chatter of a group of walking women isn’t noise. It’s soul music.