When I teach my simple productivity class, I start the presentation by asking participants to identify things that matter most to them. These are the things we want to find more time for. My example list always includes “Making Music.”
Music has been part of my life since I was born. I remember pressing my ear to my mom’s chest as a preschooler to hear her wonderful soprano voice amplified. I sang along with the adult choir by the time I was four. My siblings and I were like the Swedish Von Trapp family and toured churches and performed at community events. All five of us played several instruments and participated in orchestras, folk music groups, and pop bands. As an adult, I have formed and directed a number of ensembles and choirs. So it’s no wonder that making music would be something that matters most to me.
Except, I haven’t been making a whole lot of my music lately. The last time I sang with others (except hymns in church) was at Christmas, when I sang with a seasonal community choir. I’ve barely sat down by the piano to play and sing. And I haven’t touched my violin in over a year.
However, the past week, I have had a number of musical experiences that have inspired me to “get back into music.”
Last Saturday, I rode up to St. Paul, MN with friends to attend a barbershop concert featuring two choirs and three quartets. The main reason I went was because one of the choirs, The EntertainMen, and one of the quartets, Ringmasters, hail from Sweden. I didn’t really know what to expect and the concert blew me away. The performances were world class. (Ringmasters became international champions in 2012.) But equally importantly, the singers expressed genuine joy through their uplifting music. The tight harmonies exemplified the close bonds that exist between the members of these music groups. It was pure delight.
In my research, I have learned that singing with others has benefits for physical and mental health. Indeed, Swedish scientists have discovered that when people sing together, their hearts synchronize:
Musicologist Björn Vickhoff, who led the study, explained that not only did the choir members’ heart rates slow down as they began to sing, but their heartbeats gradually synchronized, eventually beating as one, with the song’s tempo as a guide. (From Choir Singing May Be Good For Your Heart, Says New Study)
The next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the wonderful concert and the joy of singing. I thought about it when I walked the short distance to the local UCC church, which I was visiting that morning. During the service, the music director led the congregation in several short reflective songs. One that really resonated with me, and the theme of this blog, was a short song called “Dream God’s Dream:”
Holy Spirit, help us dream…
Of a world where there is justice, and where everyone is free
To build and grow and love
And to simply have enough
That world will change when we dream God’s dream
Not only is music fun and uplifting, it can also contribute to ones spiritual life. Indeed, music is spirituality to me. Later that afternoon, I sat down at the piano for the first time in a while and belted out some old favorites. Wow, did it lift my spirit! There are few activities that are more enjoyable than making music. Truly.
But The Universe was not done telling me that it’s time for me to start making music again. On Wednesday, a Swedish youth choir happened to be passing through our town to perform their 14th performance during a 20-day Midwest tour. Since I try to go to everything Swedish, I showed up after a long day at work. Again, I was reminded of the joy and community that comes from singing and making music with others.
This week of music culminated in attending the Saturday evening service at my church and singing a solo for the offertory (a jazzy gospel song from my youth in Sweden). It was fun and appreciated. Next time, I’ll make a point to invite others to sing along.
But even if it’s just me and the piano at home, I will make a point of making music by my lonesome, because music is good for the soul.
I will leave you with Ringmasters singing Blackbird. Because they make me happy (and they’re really nice).