I started crying almost as soon as I started singing. On a recent Saturday, I stood alongside forty other singers at a large church in Huntley. It was a rehearsal for a reunion concert made up of former singers who had sung in Concert Choir at the University of Illinois sometime during our director’s 27-year tenure (1982-2011).
We had one day to rehearse twelve songs and to prepare for a concert that night.
Everyone came willingly, and you could sense the magic in the air of being a part of a group that had once been such an important part of our undergraduate experience.
Oh, to be in college again. It was like we were getting to re-live a time gone by.
Now we were 30- to 60-somethings.
During the morning rehearsal, our director suggested for the a cappella version of “Danny Boy” that we make a circle around the perimeter of the church and sing it in mixed formation. Sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses—all mixed together.
We rose from our seats and made a circle. Director Chet raised his baton. We breathed and together sang: “Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are calling…”
By the time I got to the word “pipes,” I was a goner. With tears streaming down my face, I couldn’t sing another note. Even writing about it now I get choked up. The glorious sound of forty singers melding their voices in rich four-part harmony filled me with such emotion that I dissolved into a puddle.
Over the course of the day, we practiced the other repertoire, shared lunch and dinner, reminisced with old friends, and made new ones.
In one short day, we had become a community. We all felt uplifted and connected. “Should we do another reunion?” our director asked. There was a resounding, “YES!”
Those heightened feelings of happiness and connection that we felt were real. While writing this, I came across an article in the Washington Post about how singing is good for you and that singing with others may be even better. Science backs this up.
In one study, researches took saliva samples from singers after a rehearsal. Their findings showed that singing improves a singer’s mood and health, including reduced stress, and, amazingly, aids their body’s production of proteins that help fight illness.
Best of all, choirs boost community. They are like large families which give people a feeling of belonging and joy.
I wished my daughter could experience something like this. She’s part of a growing number of young adults who don’t make time for or don’t seek out these kind of community-building activities.
Could that be why so many people in our country feel lonely?
According to Harvard University, 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel serious loneliness.
We’ve all felt it at times—disconnected, divided, alone. I know I have. Our country’s surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has stated that loneliness is an epidemic.
As Dr. Murthy traveled across the country on a listening tour, he heard stories from many, many people who felt isolated, invisible, and insignificant.
Loneliness is more than just a bad feeling, though—it makes people more susceptible to diseases like heart disease and stroke, as well as depression and anxiety.
The good news is that each of us can begin to address this pressing issue by taking small actions every day to strengthen our relationships.
Dr. Murthy suggests: Answer that phone call from a friend. Make time to share a meal. Listen without the distraction of your phone. Perform an act of service. Express yourself authentically.
And maybe join a choir.
At our evening performance on June 10, for our encore, we once again stood in a circle around the church and sang “Danny Boy.” I stood next to Warren, a man with a beautiful bass voice with whom I had sung at U of I more than 30 years ago.
Standing side by side, our two voices came together, and our two voices blended with the other forty voices, and we were one—a community of voices that rang throughout the church, up through the rafters, and back down again into our hearts.
We all felt it, and, more importantly, the audience felt it too.
And to think I almost missed out on all this. I was this close to not attending. “Did I want to be there all day and night?” “It’ll take 45 minutes to get there.” “What if I don’t have anyone to talk to?”
It got me thinking about how in life it often seems easier to opt out rather than to commit because we don’t want to make the time or get out of our comfort zones.
Now, all I can think is: “I can’t wait for the next one!”