My son, Bro. Grant Anderson, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in 2007. He was in a coma for six weeks. We were told to let him die because at best he would be a vegetable.
He was a music major, getting ready to finish his last year of college at the time. Although it took him six years to finish his music degree after his car accident, he did it! He still has a left side deficit, but he doesn’t let that hold him back.
Two months ago, he gave a talk on “How Music Affects the Plasticity of an Injured Brain” for a Brain Injury Association Conference. Who would have thought he would be giving a talk like that?
Along with God’s healing power, prayer and support from family and friends, music played and continues to play a powerful role in his recovery. In preparing for his talk, Grant found research that shows singing produces oxytocin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that contribute to the well-being of people who sing.
Singing is a mood enhancer and a great tool for memorizing information as well as benefiting muscle memory in physical recovery. When considering the benefit of music on the brain, it’s no surprise that our Creator incorporated singing in his book of life.
There are many directives in the Bible to rejoice in song and many examples of people singing. In addition, music has health benefits to soothe, reduce stress and bring feelings of happiness and contentment. These benefits were designed by God and given to us well before research established their value.
Grant says, “Music helped tie my life together.”
We sang songs to motivate him to come out of his coma and remember his past. Music brings us back to special events, like family gatherings or Bible schools. It helps us remember Scripture and give thanks even in our trials.
Of course, songs without words give God praise.
Singing, however, has specific benefits. We use both sides of our brain and incorporate the whole being when we sing. Singing God’s Word puts His thoughts deep into our being. God’s name in Hebrew, YHWH, is composed of “aspirational” letters. This means you have to breathe to say his name!
The physical act of pushing air in and out, especially when we sing, is God’s breath within us. Our family not only sang to Grant but with each other throughout our trials, as Paul and Silas did from jail. It gave us “hope to cope” as Grant puts it now.
The benefits we experienced are supported in Scriptures:
Singing builds trust and hope in salvation:
Singing brings joy and helps us deal with life:
Singing brings blessings:
MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE TOGETHER
Grant’s experience verifies research that finds singing as a group has many benefits as well. Singing together can bring one to tears when it is done with emotion and expression. It takes a lot of trust and an open heart to sing with one another. When we sing as a community, we learn to balance our voices and sing at the same pace as those around us.
Music is a universal language that binds us together.
We are guided to sing within the same chords, making a beautiful sound unto the LORD. Sometimes the notes may cause tension with other notes. This is written in the music to create variety. When the tension is resolved at the end of phrases, it is comforting and uplifting.
The benefits of participating in group singing have significant lessons for ecclesial life as well.
- Singing together teaches us that each person’s voice is important for healthy ecclesial life. If you are too strong with your words you may drown out someone else’s voice. If you don’t speak up, then others won’t hear what you can contribute. There is a balance to the way we communicate that should produce a sweet sound unto the LORD.
- When we sing together, we consider the pace. Changes of pace in a song are effective in enhancing mood and interest in the song. Yet when we change pace, it’s best to do it as one voice and so it is with an ecclesia. Changing the pace on different issues keeps the group excited and interested when it is done in unison. Patiently and compassionately encouraging one another to move faster or slower when needed keeps us in sync.
- Singing together does not mean we have to all sing the same notes. Similarly, we don’t all have to behave exactly the same in an ecclesia. “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function.” (Rom 12:4). When disagreements happen, the goal should be to work them out, showing love and care for one another’s uniqueness. Who has not felt the joy of resolving tension you had with someone?! Differences can add variety and excitement. They are how we sharpen and develop each other as well.
LET US SING
Recently we have been deprived of the opportunity, due to COVID, to interact with one another and practice these skills. Our ecclesia again started meeting in our hall last month with reduced attendance, social distancing, mask-wearing and refraining from hugging.
Singing has stopped due to the explosive bursts of air it creates, making it a risk for spreading COVID-19. Though these restrictions are necessary, it is indeed a sad time. There are, however, ways to continue the benefits of music in our spiritual lives during this time of isolation.
A big one is to sing together as a family at home. You don’t have to be a gifted musician to sing. God loves it when we sing, and the benefits of singing are not dependent on perfect pitch. If your family is musical, music may come naturally. For those who are not musical, a variety of hymns and songs of praise have been made into lovely videos that can be accessed online.
You can sing your heart out with these songs, even if you live by yourself! Singing in a virtual choir is another option. We had the pleasure of doing so with the Online Christadelphian Bible School over the summer. It was directed by Bro. Jacob and Sis. Josie Walker.
Where I was weak, another was strong. Together we presented pleasant, unified songs of praise.
We were given practice links to learn our parts. We met together on Zoom and connected with old and new friends which was a lovely experience. Once we learned our parts and understood how to make an individual video, Grant and I made ours at home.
I have to say, it was more challenging than I thought it would be. Hearing yourself sing is not necessarily a comforting thing, especially for a musician. My first reaction was, “This is awful; I’m not sending it in!”
However, wanting to support the activity we submitted our flawed contributions. Much time was put in by the directors to create a beautiful “virtual choir” with all our voices. I was impressed by how any individual mistakes were not noticeable in the group. Where I was weak, another was strong. Together we presented pleasant, unified songs of praise.2
THE POWER OF HARMONY
A spiritual lesson that comes to mind from participating in a choir is that our individual flaws are not only covered by Christ, but by the body of Christ.
Music is a universal language that binds us together. To live in harmony, it’s helpful if we are considerate of the kind of music that we sing, so that it gives praise to God and at the same time is edifies everyone.
Younger members do well to be considerate to the music that has meaning to our older members. Music holds their memories. Conversely, older members do well to adjust to what has meaning for the younger members.
Everybody is moved by a different style of music. Finding the balance to embrace all age groups creates harmony.
Working in harmony reflects God’s love to those around us. What we sing and how we sing is a way of telling the world about God’s name and his salvation plan.
Jesus has a song within him. A Messianic Psalm says,
Through Christ’s sacrifice, we will sing as one with our savior!
How exciting it is that God will sing!
This vision is a mood enhancer for sure! I look forward to the time when the,
Even so come Lord Jesus!
Juliana K. Anderson
Ann Arbor, MI
1 All references are taken from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) unless otherwise stated
2 The virtual choir songs, “The Duteous Day” and “Set Me as a Seal” are on the WCF website. www.onlinebible.school/choir-music