It’s Time to Sing Your Song Again
DETROIT — Ted Nugent, aka The Motor City Madman rock singer, just announced he has COVID-19 in a Facebook video where he still fights restrictions.
“I’m basically homebound: quarantined,” Nugent said, coughing but also needing to sing a bit, keeping his music alive. “I thought I was dying.”
New research shows music can be as addictive as fast food, money, and alcohol. Other studies show social media can be as destructive as drugs. But singing was the only one of these activities banned during lockdowns.
Arguably singing during a long church service was one of the most criticized activities during the pandemic.
Most choir members have been lamenting their lost ability to achieve musical communion by singing together in one place, particularly true of church choirs.
Media reported mass outbreaks involving singing, and University of Colorado researchers argued, “the only plausible explanation for this super-spreading event was transmission by aerosols.”
“Shared air is important because you can be inhaling what someone else exhaled even if they are far away from you,” the study’s lead author, Shelly Miller, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, concluded. “Singing is known to release high amounts of aerosol.”
The researchers cited the Skagit Valley, Washington case where a single person with mild symptoms spread the virus to more than 50 others during their 2.5-hour choir practice. Researchers concluded:
- Shortening a rehearsal from 2.5 hours to 30 minutes could have reduced the infection rate from 87 percent to 12 percent.
- By wearing masks, they said the number of people infected would have dropped from 52 to five.
Similarly, aerosol researchers at Lund University in Sweden argued singing might be the worst thing to do around other people, saying singing loud and consonant-rich singing spreads extra aerosol particles and droplets. But they pointed to ways music could return.
“When the singers were wearing a simple face mask, this caught most of the aerosols and droplets, and the levels were comparable with ordinary speech,” researcher Jakob Löndahl concluded.
After a year without live singing, music and concerts are making a comeback
A bit of irony? After a year of lockdowns focused on protecting our ability to breathe, the classic ‘80s band Air Supply was one of the first to return to live concerts with a Valentine’s Day concert in Florida.
Starting with Holy Week, many churches also began lightening up on restrictions.
When our church re-opened in May 2020, the restrictions on singing were fierce: we received a video telling us to avoid singing, minimize conversations, and avoid conversations after Mass but depart and go home. If that sounded too much like “pray, pay, and obey,” it wasn’t intentional.
Restrictions slowly lightened. One lone cantor or no music often replaced choirs, then multiple singers spread out, then still more. Hymnals were locked away from May 2020 through March 2021, but now you can hold the music in your hands again.
Just in time for Holy Week, the hymnals were back in the pews, and the people were told, “It’s OK to sing again. Please sing again,” but of course, we were still wearing masks.
This morning, a visiting priest asked us to open our hymnals to join him singing, “Sing a new song unto the Lord, let your song be sung from mountains high.” As the church broke into song, a little toddler started crying out in excitement.
It occurred to me that every little, tiniest part of the Mass seemed huge when a small piece of it was taken away (like shaking hands and saying “Peace be with you” or singing a song). These little gifts seem larger when they return after a year away.
Why do we need to sing?
Graham Welch, the UCL Institute of Education Established Chair of Music Education and chair of the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research, conducted a major longitudinal study for Sing Up.
He concluded that singing:
- “Builds self-confidence, promotes self-esteem, always engages the emotions, promotes social inclusion, supports social skill development, and enables young people of different ages and abilities to come together successfully to create something special in the arts.”
- “Is aerobic, in that it is a form of exercise that improves the efficiency of the body’s cardiovascular system, with related benefits to overall health.”
- Builds relationships. “Singers tend to have greater connections between areas of the brain than non-singers. Research has suggested that singing with someone else is not the same as singing alone, nor the same as singing with an instrument, because singing with others involves neurological areas related to human social interaction, empathy, and coordination.’’
- “Provides an outlet for our feelings.”
- “Enables us to maximize our potential to communicate with others.”
- “Will likely make you more competent in your own language, including an improvement in reading skills.”
Other research shows music can improve your mood and fend off depression. by improving blood flow and reducing stress hormones.
The newest study from McGill University shows our brain’s “reward center,” the nucleus accumbens, makes neurons “fire up” as the music increases our joy, producing the “feel-good” chemical called l dopamine. It’s detailed in the journal, JNeurosci.
The need for music and singing is part of human evolution, the researchers concluded.
As Matt Redman argues, “The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning. It’s time to sing your song again. Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me. Let me be singing when the evening comes.”