The Power of Words in Song
"Song is a response which engages the whole self in prayer. Song unites the faithful in common prayer wherever they gather for worship whether in church, home, or other special place."
– PCUSA Book of Order W 2.1003
If you know our youth, then it should come as no surprise to you that other than five or six faithful kids, the majority of them do not like to sing in public.
Choir is not going to happen. Even hymns at church are sung at a whisper directly into the spines of the big blue hymnal. Some will sing only in the shower. It’s normal, I’ve found, for that age group to be in love with music, but have a complicated relationship with song. And I used to think that was just fine with me.
But something changed for me during our Youth Lock-in in April. After a HEATED game of whirly ball (with disputed final results) my two warring factions of youth packed themselves into the 15 passenger van grumbling about who scored what and who really won the second match. I turned on the radio, pulled on to the highway and Taylor Swift came on the radio.
Suddenly, all of my passengers from shy 6th grade girls to boisterous 11th grade boys were singing loudly, “We are NEVER EVER EVER, getting back together!!!”
During the verses they argued with each other about the cultural validity of Swift’s music but even the loudest antagonists would chime in when the chorus came around, singing in exaggerated twang and falsetto. The back row had its own choreography. The girls in the middle row swayed back and forth to the beat.
And everyone stopped arguing.
In fact, the group seemed to get along much better after the ride back (which also included sing-a-longs of Alicia Keys and Macklemore.) At the time I thought, “How weird, that the van ride accomplished in 15 minutes, what 45 minutes of ‘bonding games’ could not. How did this happen?”
I am not alone as I ponder that question. In 2009 Stanford University psychologists Scott S. Wittermuth and Chip Heath did a study of how “synchrony fosters cooperation.”
For the duration of the experiment they observed the effects of how certain activities like synchronized movement, reciting chants, and singing in unison affected productivity and group dynamic. Their results showed that people actually form an emotional bond with people they sing and chant with much faster than when left to their own devices. Groups who sang together were more likely to self-sacrifice, be open to compromise and discussion, and reported feeling a greater “connection” to the group.
Even participants who reported disliking the synchronized activity still received the emotional benefits of participating.
Last week Brent wrote that words can “create reality.”
What I’ve found is that how the words are communicated can vastly change a reality for the better. Unison activity, especially singing, can change the mood of the group in an instant.
So give it a try next time your group isn’t “gelling.”
And maybe think about joining the choir or at least singing a little louder on Sundays… because it’s good for you and it’s good for us.