I glance to my left and see a line of puffed-up chests. Chins are lifted, eyes the same, or squeezed shut. The chests, they puff with words and breath that climb in a collective up-current like those that catch sheets on clothes lines or carry dandelion seeds away.
Me, I struggle to squeeze the words out my suddenly-swollen throat.
All the voices: the young ones, the old ones, the tenors, the sopranos, the soft ones, the bellowy ones, the gifted ones, the tone-deaf ones; they all muddle to make one magnificent noise, one hallowed space.
We could be anywhere.
Anywhere they sing – at the footy, in a choir, at the Olympics, at a state event, at a concert, at a rally or at church.
We could be singing anything: the national anthem, a team song, a chart-topper, a ballad or a hymn.
Singing releases endorphins (the pleasure hormone) and oxytocin, the hormone that both reduces stress and strengthens feelings of trust and connection. Countless studies vouch for the benefits of singing – particularly collective singing – on our social and emotional wellbeing.
Musician Brian Eno suggested that group singing weaves a kind of magic because of the shift of focus from ‘me’ to ‘us’.
I like that.
Because when we’re at the footy belting out our team’s tune after a win, there’s a solidarity with the other crazies waving their striped scarves.
Singing brings us together.
I mean, it’s kinda weird when you think about it.
At church on a Sunday I often wonder what it would be like for someone who’s never been in a church context before, to be invited to “stand and sing”.
But the whole standing in rows, filling our chests to blow meaning into the air – that’s not a church thing. It’s a human thing – crossing race, tongue, class, sex and whatever other social divide.
Singing is an act of unity.
The Bible is full of singing, full of instruction to sing as an expression of joy, unity and obedience. The Psalms are an obvious starting point. An example:
“… I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.”
Oh, how I relate to these words.
Sometimes the day begins sour. There’s no hot water left. The kids are agitated. It’s Monday. You sleep long but wake exhausted. For whatever reason, black threatens to soot your heart before you’ve finished your first coffee.
That’s when we should sing.
When I’m lucid enough to identify the threat, I put on some music that turns thoughts of myself to thoughts of God’s love for me. I sing in the kitchen with the kids giggling and the dishes clanging as I stack them on the sink. And the black greys.
It’s little wonder what those studies show about group singing. I could’ve told the same from my Sunday observations down the row of chests puffed, wet cheeks and pulses running away.
“Then sings my soul, my Saviour, God, to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art.”
As words on a page they look like a sepia photo of some old folks in tweed. But let me tell you, when those words are propelled heavenward in one great collective, well, as the lyrics suggest, it’s no longer only the mouth that sings.
Speaking of hymns…
I hope you’ll consider a good old sing-along at the Launceston Hymnfest on Sunday, 2:30pm at St John’s Anglican Church – arranged and performed by internationally renowned conductor, Monte Mumford.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday September 7, 2015.