The “ber” months (September, October, November, December), to me and to many members of my Christmas choir, are special months. In the past several years, as soon as September hits, our choir starts to gather for practices and just fill the late summer airwaves with Christmas music. But because of the global pandemic, the joyful jingles usually sung and heard throughout the “ber” months are getting a whole new makeover. The music must go on, nonetheless. Our need to make music together now is more important than ever. But the question is how do we do so safely.

In the early months of the pandemic, an outbreak after a choir practice in Washington State revealed to us the mystery of how connected we truly are when we make music together. After learning how much of a “superspreader event” choir singing is, we were faced with the heartbreaking reality that all future choir performances including our fun weekly practices will not be happening for a while. And who knows when we’ll be able to share space to make music together again. 

Music Unites Us

For choir singers and musicians, there is a special sense of recognition that music is vital not only to our spiritual but to our social lives. Music has that power to build bonds and that stick that holds communities together. We recognize, just like our gathering songs or opening hymns, music has that transcendent power to bring people together, unite us in harmony and provide the cadence as we move into the space that we share with one another. In recent years, a body of evidence has continued to illustrate what musicians have known all along about the power of music and below are just a few. 

In a 2015 study from University of Exeter and Tokyo University of the Arts that analyzed hundreds of recordings from around the world, the researchers concluded that the one characteristic that the different kinds of music have in common is its purpose of bringing people together. Humans throughout the world and throughout history create music to transcend our individuality and come together as one. Through music, we share a mental framework through which we coordinate our actions and our cadence like dancing, marching, and harmonizing. It is naturally ingrained in us to move and dance to the same beat. Together, we slow down when the beat slows down and, together, move faster when the beat speeds up. 

Music can even make our hearts beat as one, literally. Research done in Europe found that the cardiovascular and respiratory fluctuations in our bodies mirror the music profile we hear. Thus, when we listen to music as a group, we mirror not only the profile of the music but also of one another’s biological rhythmic oscillations. 

In another study, researchers found that children who made music together as a group before performing a problem-solving task showed greater teamwork, cooperation, and prosocial behaviors than the group of children who did not make music together. The shared task of making music together, may it be singing together, playing instruments together, or some kind of joint rhythmic integration, elicits human motivation and behavior to coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate. 

A look inside the inner workings of the brain, music acts as a catalyst for the release of oxytocin, the hormone that plays an important role in our social bonding activities, which in turn makes it possible for empathy, compassion, and fellowship.

It is in our nature to find beauty in music for it brings us together, in harmony. Whether you have high pitch or low, whether you play a string instrument or percussion, when we come together in harmony and in synchrony, we make space for others and accommodate our individual differences. The diversity flourishes in a way that gives way to cooperation, collaboration, coordination, and harmony towards the one common goal of producing something beautiful. 

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 5:13)

Music as a Superspreader…of joy, love, hope, and connectedness

Music is contagious. When we make music together, singing with and hearing one another in harmony, there’s that inexplicable feeling that just lifts up the soul, the heart, and mind to a higher place. Together, shoulder to shoulder, soul to soul, we conquer the valleys in the low notes and the peaks in the high notes. We stay together through the crescendos and the allegros. There are moments of struggle but there is cooperation, collaboration, and a deep sense of community. We lose ourselves in the music that we find ourselves lifting each other up, in voice and in spirits, to heaven, closer to God, as one.

Music as a superspreader is something we, musicians, have known all along. It’s a superspreader of joy, hope, love, and togetherness. And in these times of social distancing and isolation, we’ll find ways to unite our voices and our instruments to make beautiful music together and continue to spread hope, love, and joy throughout. 

Learning to Lean In

James Regalado, an avid choir singer and a member of several choir groups, admits that he misses the in-person choir practices and performances, along with the camaraderie, the bonding, and the potlucks. However, he also admits that he has learned to embrace the new reality of performing with his choir virtually. Choir members are learning to adapt and even learn new skills such as recording and editing. James says that he has accepted the likelihood that this is the way it will be for a while but still, the making of music together must go on. He even relishes the fact that, now, because of the world wide scope of virtual practices, he gets to collaborate and sing with other singers and choir groups from around the world. 

There is something refreshing about James’ lean-in perspective. Many of us are now working or schooling from home. It’s not ideal and it can be very challenging, often times frustrating, but we roll with it and make the most of it. Even in times of despair and when we need it the most, music continues to give us the opportunity and the calling to thrive and continue to make beautiful music together. 

Music is a gift that brings us together. I sincerely hope and pray that we will be able to sing together again in the same space soon but in the meantime, why not lean in, take control of the situation, make the most of it, and keep on making beautiful music together? 

“A cry from deep within our being, music is a way for God to lead us to the realm of higher things.”  

-United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB], Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, Pastoral Liturgy Series.

For some inspiring and amazing virtual choral productions, check out:

Bukas Palad Music Ministry