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Singing heart and soul

We have rejoiced with the celebration at this special time of year. Good will and carols have been everywhere – a counter to the grimness of weather on some days, and the dreadful stories of greed and conflict which dominate too much of life in this country and the wider world. Killings in wars which we thought we had matured out of.

So popular was the draw of communal carol singing in Columbia Road of London’s East End, that it was felt necessary to ban its continuation for fear of public safety from the crush as over 7,000 were estimated to have attended London’s Columbia Road carol services cancelled over safety fears | London | The Guardian

A most unusual challenge for the local churches who would have been pleased with a congregation of one hundred for a normal church service.

We have become used to understanding the benefits of singing for people with dementia – something we can do even when our memories are fading – music activates emotions and learned songs from earlier times – joy and achievement – best if done shared. An additional joy derived from the restrictions of Covid-19, has been the emergence of Zoom and similar tools which allow communication over long distances and with minimal risks. This has brought me together, via Christians on Ageing, with wonderful people in Orkney. There is a marvellous sense of community radiating from the islands – and I was uplifted to receive from them copies of two CDs produced by The Orkney Joyful Choir: a choir made up of local people, including some living with dementia and others who are supporting them: (20+) Facebook (see especially December 4th).

My parcel included the CDs, a sachet of hot chocolate, a shortbread biscuit and a Puffin card – all sourced from Orkney.

Ian Sample’s article December 16th explores the basics of the power associated singing and especially with communal singing: ‘A mega-mechanism for bonding’: why singing together does us good | Science | The Guardian

Professor Daisy Fancourt reflects that coming together in song has been something human beings have done from the very earliest times known to history: it is a means of establishing and growing social bonding. We have come to understand that endorphins released in the brain provide a biochemical base for this effect.

Professor Robin Dunbar delves deeper and will say that the physical stress of strong exhalation when we sing, is a potent stimulus to the release of endorphins. This phenomenon is amplified by singing in groups in harmony: ‘Vocal Synchrony’. And he will say that this helps us step aside from worries of the world and supports us to achieve ‘emotional regulation’ – to deal better with the challenges of life. Well-being and Life-Satisfaction are increased. Memories are activated. Signs of stress such as higher blood pressure, increased heart rate and the release of stress hormones, are suppressed.

So there we are: The faith communities may not have known all the biological and psychological mechanisms – but they have recognised the power and usefulness of shared song for centuries:

Long may we continue to sing together – Carols and all.


Each week we post a blog from David Jolley where he shares his personal views on relevant subjects.

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