Taylor: Singing synchronizes body, breath

Ancient monks felt uplifted while singing sonorous psalms.

Our congregation did a profoundly counter-cultural act last Sunday. We sang.

People don’t sing anymore. They plug loudspeakers into their ears. While they’re at work. Or out for a walk. While they lie on the beach, or commune with nature.

They could be listening to Mozart. Or Metallica. Perhaps they’re learning astronomy or calculus from one of the Great Courses. Sometimes their lips move. But no sounds come out.

People used to sing. They weren’t ashamed of singing out loud. They gathered around a piano in someone’s living room. Even if the piano player mangled the melodies, they sang along. They brought guitars and sang around campfires. They sang as they marched off to war.

The great songwriters and lyricists put people’s hopes and dreams—and their laments—to music. During World War II, Vera Lynn’s songs did as much to lift British spirits as Winston Churchill’s speeches.

We had a funeral recently, a memorial service, at church. The room was packed. But when it came time to sing, fewer than half the people sang.

The music wasn’t difficult. The words were projected on big screens. But more than half of the people didn’t even attempt to sing. They kept their mouths zippered, their faces blank.

Me, I love to sing. In my retirement years, I’m learning a little about harmony. And about rhythm, and timing. But even if I could do nothing but join in the main melody, I would delight in the sheer joy of singing.

Research at the University of Gothenberg suggests that singing together also has physiological effects. “Singing the phrases is a form of guided breathing,” said musicologist Bjorn Vickhoff of the Sahlgrenska Academy (from a report on NPR). “You exhale on the phrases and breathe in between the phrases. When you exhale, the heart slows down.”

Vickhoff’s team measured heart rates as a high school choir sang. Almost immediately, the music caused the singers’ heart rates to fall into a shared rhythm influenced by the song’s tempo.

His conclusions shouldn’t be surprising. We know already that breathing affects heart rates. Yoga and meditation both focus on breathing patterns. Singers must match their breathing to the demands of the music. So it stands to reason that their heart rates would be affected.

Perhaps that’s why ancient monks felt uplifted while singing sonorous psalms in the darkness before dawn. Perhaps that’s why worshippers at Taize and Iona experience euphoria as they chant endless refrains.

So when a congregation rises to its feet to belt out a rousing hymn, or repeats a prayer in unison, they discover a sense of unity. Not just with their minds, but also with their bodies.

Merely listening to a sermon or speech doesn’t evoke a common response. Some will respond favourably to an idea; others won’t. But singing, by its nature, encourages a common response both mentally and physiologically.

As a writer, I believe that the words are important. Many musicians argue that the music itself matters, regardless of the words. But maybe both of us are wrong.

It’s not WHAT people sing; it’s THAT they sing. That they sing together, synchronizing breath and body in a common cause. Singing makes them one.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Racist incidents on the rise in the Okanagan as coronovirus spreads

UBCO professor not surprised by recent incidents

Kelowna man charged after naked driver leads RCMP on hit-and-run spree

A Kelowna man has been charged with numerous offences

BREAKING: Surrey man pleads guilty on first day of West Kelowna murder trial

Tejwant Danjou is charged with second-degree murder in the July 2018 death of Rama Gauravarapu

Kelowna karate athletes bring home gold at 2020 BC Winter Games

Eight Kelowna-based athletes won gold medals last week

Kelowna council denies proposed provincial pot shop

The shop was proposed within 500 metres of an already approved location

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Coaches take on players to honour Vernon volleyball player

Vernon Sky Club hosting event with proceeds to the Emily Dahl Foundation

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

Most Read