Living Song

Singing, Spirituality, and Wellbeing

by Karin Hendricks (Volume editor) June Boyce-Tillman (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection XII, 308 Pages
Series: Music and Spirituality, Volume 14


There is an immense and growing literature on singing in relation to a number of areas, often associated with wellbeing of various kinds – physical, mental, emotional, communal, public and spiritual. Although spirituality is mentioned in much of the literature it is often as an addendum to other more measurable aspects of the experience/event. This volume consists of various approaches to the spirituality of the singing experience, particularly how these have changed or even been heightened during the current pandemic. This collection offers a number of very wide-ranging perspectives from across the world. The chapters are drawn from several cultures and include a number referring to the various lockdowns that have characterized the pandemic. The book includes a mixture of chapters – which incorporate academic references and discourse – and interludes that are more reflective accounts of individual experiences.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • PART I The Culture
  • 1 Living Song (June Boyce-Tillman and Karin S. Hendricks)
  • 2 “I’m Singing in the Nave!” How an Intersection of Theological Expectations and Music-Evoked Emotion Creates a “Glorious Feeling” (Douglas J. Bachorik)
  • 3 Two Adolescents on Singing and Becoming Themselves (Elizabeth Cassidy Parker)
  • 4 Musicking the Cosmos (June Boyce-Tillman)
  • Interlude 1 Music Is the Heartbeat of Life (Nancy-Angel Doetzel)
  • 5 Primal Singing Integrative (Maria Soriano)
  • 6 The Psalmist’s Cry (Anne F. Lamont)
  • PART II Singing in Groups
  • 7 The New Sarum Singers: Its Role in Spiritual Nurture and (Re)shaping an Understanding of Church Mission (Keith D. Thomasson)
  • 8 Inclusive Songwriting for Wellbeing in the LGBT+ Christian Community (Merinda D’Aprano and Julie Shaw)
  • Interlude 2 Caring for the Carers (Catherine Pestano)
  • Interlude 3 Exploring Aliveness (Eleanor Gibson)
  • 9 Florecer, Faith, and Music (Julie Shaw)
  • Interlude 4 Vocal Group Improvisation as a Path to Spiritual Experience (Catherine Pestano)
  • Part III Individual Stories
  • 10 A Time of Change (Catherine Pestano)
  • Interlude 5 Soul-Voyaging with a Purpose (Jennifer Kershaw)
  • 11 Singing the Good Life (Ruth A. Debrot)
  • Interlude 6 Caring Through Singing (Grenville Hancox)
  • 12 Healing Spirit: Warriors of Equity and Justice for the Pursuit of Happiness (Deejay Robinson and Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz)
  • Interlude 7 Singing Through Grief: An Autoethnographic Fragment with Brief Commentary (Estelle R. Jorgensen and Patrice Madura Ward-Steinman)
  • 13 “Sing Yourself to Where the Singing Comes From”: Healing, Singing, and Reconciliation (Brian Castle)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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I am very grateful for a group of people around me during the pandemic who have encouraged me and supported me to keep going including Sue Lawes, David McDonald, the Very Rev James Atwell (now sadly deceased), the Rev David Page, Henry Morgan, Penny Toller, Dr. Carol Boulter, Diane Berry MBE, Hannah Stanislaus, Jana Richvalska, Della Edwards, the community of All Saints Church Tooting, the Rev Elizabeth Baxter from Holy Rood House, and Althea de Carteret. Some of these chapters came from the last conference of the Tavener Centre and the Centre for the Arts and Wellbeing at the University of Winchester who supported me in my academic life, including especially Professor Simon Jobson, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Professor Joy Carter, the Vice Chancellor, Rev Dr. Terry Biddington, The Dean of Spiritual Life, Professor Inga Bryden, Head of Research in the Arts Faculty, Dr. David Walters, Convenor of the Centre, and Holly Pye, the administrator. The steering group of Music Spirituality and Wellbeing, some of whom are represented in this volume, keep the energy of this series going: The Rev Dr. Stephen Roberts, Dr. Brian Inglis, Dr. Amira Ehrlich, Dr. Giorgos Tsiris, Maria Soriano, Professor Tawnya Smith, my three colleagues from North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa, Professor Chris van Rhyn, Professor Liesl Van der Merwe, and Professor Hetta Potgieter and finally Professor Karin Hendricks, my co-editor, with whom it is wonderful to cooperate. Professional colleagues who have encouraged the idea include Neil Valentine, Dr. Vicky Feldwick, Dr. Olu Taiwo, Professor Stephen Clift, and Meta Killick. I am also grateful to Petra Griffiths of the Living Spirituality Network and the forming of the group interested in the Spirituality of Music within that organization. The Rev Jonathan Evens from HeartEdge at St. Martins in the Fields has also been very encouraging. Without Lucy Melville at Peter Lang this series would never have happened. Alongside me through the pandemic have been ←viii | xii→my two sons, Matthew and Richard, and my beautiful granddaughter Scarlett. Without all these people to continue my creative work would have been impossible. I am profoundly grateful.

– The Rev Professor June Boyce-Tillman MBE, Professor Emerita of Applied Music University of Winchester; Extraordinary Professor at North-West University, South Africa; Associate of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, St. Andrews University, Scotland

I am deeply grateful to the chapter and interlude authors, who have collaborated on this project from various places around the world. Despite our physical separation, you have become dear friends and colleagues over the past two years. I also thank the international collective of abstract and manuscript reviewers for their investment of time and care: Bruce Benson, Terry Biddington, Ian Bradley, Maria Busen-Smith, Ruth Debrot, Amira Ehrlich, Jane Erricker, Christopher Findlay, Anne-Marie Forbes, John Habron, Graham Harvey, Frank Heuser, Gavin Hopps, Ruth Illman, Brian Inglis, Marian Liebmann, Christo Lombaard, George Lotter, Koji Matsunobu, John Moxon, Elizabeth Cassidy Parker, Hetta Potgieter, Noah Potvin, Susan Quindag, Stephen Roberts, Deejay Robinson, Gareth Dylan Smith, Tawnya Smith, Jason D. Thompson, Giorgos Tsiris, Liesl Van der Merwe, Etienne Viviers, and Katherine Zeserson.

I offer an enormous amount of thanks to my research assistants, Cheryl Freeze and Delaney Finn, for their patience, dedication, and keen attention to detail during the editing process. As always, it is a delight and inspiration to work with June, who was the inspiration behind this project and a true visionary for connecting scholars and practitioners from across the world. I express gratitude to Catherine Pestano, whose chapter (in this volume) on menopause became an unexpected source of wisdom and comfort during my own process of “decolonizing of the soul.” Catherine’s chapter – dedicated to June, who has supported her through her transition – is testament to the ways in which wellbeing is wrapped up in relationships with others who share the journey of the “hero within.” Finally, I am grateful to my family for teaching me to sing joyfully long before I could speak, and for Tawnya, who has since helped me find – and celebrate – my authentic voice.

– Karin Hendricks, Associate Professor and Chair, Music Education, Boston University

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June Boyce-Tillman and Karin S. Hendricks

1 Living Song

There is an immense and growing literature on singing in relation to a number of areas, often associated with wellbeing of various kinds – physical, mental, emotional, communal, public and, indeed, spiritual. Although spirituality is mentioned in much of the literature, it is often as an addendum to other more measurable aspects of the experience/event. This volume consists of various approaches to the spirituality of the singing experience, particularly how these have changed or even been heightened during the lockdown. This collection offers a number of very wide-ranging perspectives from various continents that we hope will throw greater light on this aspect. The chapters are drawn from several cultures and include a number referring to the various lockdowns that have characterized the COVID-19 pandemic. The book includes a mixture of chapters – which incorporate academic references and discourse – and interludes that are more reflective accounts of various experiences.

Prior Research

Since the 1990s, many empirical studies have appeared demonstrating the measurable impact of community singing on participants (Livesey et al., 2012), in the areas of feeling, closeness, altruism, trust, identity, and co-operation. Some of these are associated with physical changes such as raised levels of oxytocin, associated with communal bonding. Shared embodied rhythm affects breathing and other biomarkers (Fancourt et al., 2016; Kreutz et al., 2004), such as heart rate, reduction of cortisol, ←3 | 4→improvements in heart rate, improved respiration for people with COPD, and even improvement in diseases associated with the autoimmune system (Grape et al., 2002; Müller & Lindenberger, 2011; Skingley et al., 2014). These approaches to singing come from many disciplines using many methodologies. They are seldom brought together; this volume brings together theologians, musicologists, and practicing musicians. The contexts range from the secular to the religious and have a variety of ends in view, ranging from entertainment to healing, therapy, mental health, and religious worship.

A variety of previous findings are supported in these chapters, such as the development of self-confidence, self-efficacy, connection, nurture, empathy, entrainment (both physical and emotional), and empowerment. Björn Vickhoff, in a study at the University of Gothenburg published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, links the emotional and the physical, by likening the breathing required to sing long phrases to yoga breathing which are also seen to affect mental states. These, he claims, will also, in its calming properties, regulate heartbeat (Vickhoff et al., 2013).

We live in an age when many new singing groups of various types are developing for groups, such as the elderly (Hallam et al., 2011; VanderArk et al., 1983); hospital patients (Preti & Boyce-Tillman, 2014); the homeless (Bailey & Davidson, 2002); the mentally ill (Morrison & Clift, 2012b); people with memory loss (Vella-Burrows, 2012); Parkinson’s sufferers (Vella-Burrows & Hancox, 2012); people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (Clift et al., 2013; Morrison & Clift, 2012a, 2012b) and trafficked women (Amies Choir, n.d.), to name but a few. Many of these chapters look at the adaptations necessary to keep these going during the pandemic. Much of the therapeutic writing on singing concentrates on the loneliness and isolation in our culture, which has increased in the pandemic, potentially countered by community singing (Morgan & Boyce-Tillman, 2016):

What then does aesthetic experience mean for Dewey? Together with aspects of artistic doings and contextualism of this doing, the aesthetic aspect of experience means a qualitatively different, fulfilling and inherently meaningful mode of engagement in contrast to the mechanical, the fragmentary, the non-integrated and all other no meaningful forms of engagement. (Westerlund, 2002. p. 191)

Themes of communitas (Turner, 2012), physical exertion, having fun, sounding good, a sense of place and transcendence through relationship ←4 | 5→are revealed by Dave Camlin (Camlin et al., 2020) in his study on the Fellowship of Hill and Wind and Sunshine project. They identify a sense of a shared goal and unity in adversity. The various dimensions such as the aesthetic and participatory were seen to combine to produce effects which they label paramusical. As the singing took place outdoors there were references to wider views of audience as including the surrounding mountains. This study shows clearly that the musical experience is polyvalent (Bowman, 2004, p. 30), including the different dimensions described in Boyce-Tillman (2016). It operates at the bodily, emotional, cognitive, and communal levels and the intertwinement of these produces liminal/paramusical/spiritual experiences.

Culture, Groups, and Individuals

The book is divided into three sections. One sets the sense of The Culture – the national, the religious culture, the singing culture, and the relationships singing can establish in various cultures. For example, in the last chapter, Filipino nurses were surprised not to find singing in our hospitals. Some of the multiple meanings are explored in this section including those involved in listening to singing, that “occur in a complex interplay between the listener, the music, and the context” (Västfjäll et al., 2013, p. 408). June Boyce-Tillman examined this in association with Antony Rooley (Boyce-Tillman, 2000, p. 98) and in this volume it is associated with Arvo Pärt. Jill Dolan writes of experiencing music theater that it reveals another dimension of human experience, which opens up insights which previously seemed impossible and illuminates moments of awareness (Dolan, 2005, pp. 6–8). She illustrates this from Stephen Sondheim:

And each time you see a performance of the same show, [Into the Woods] each time you go back into the woods, you learn something new about where you are in your life at that moment. (Dolan, 2005, p. 8)

The second section concerns Singing in Groups and offers a variety of projects in various contexts and contains a great deal of helpful practical ←5 | 6→considerations that may assist readers in getting and keeping groups going. This explores many of the themes in the literature, including those described by Randall Collins (2004) in his Chain of Interaction Rituals (to be explored more fully in Boyce-Tillman, Van der Merwe & Morelli, 2021). He links rhythmic entrainment with emotional entrainment and sees the need for bodily presence. These areas are problematic in the pandemic because of the problems with a shared pulse on digital platforms; a further question arises about whether contact through a computer screen is a bodily presence. Other aspects of Collins’s necessary features of an interactive ritual concerned the exclusion of outsiders and the sharing of a common focus and a common mood (Collins, 2004 p. 48). The regularity of meeting is also significant:

A theory of interaction ritual and interaction ritual chains is above all a theory of situations … It is a theory of momentary encounters among human bodies charged up with emotions and consciousness because they have gone through chains of previous encounters. (Collins, 2004, p. 3)

These chapters provide a variety of ways in which these chains and interconnection can be achieved:


XII, 308
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (August)
Music spirituality singing Living Song Karin Hendricks
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XII, 308 pp., 8 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Karin Hendricks (Volume editor) June Boyce-Tillman (Volume editor)

June Boyce-Tillman read music at Oxford University and is Professor Emerita of Applied Music at the University of Winchester. She has published widely in the area of education and music, often on spirituality/liminality and eudaimonia. Her doctoral research into children’s musical development has been translated into five languages and supported the development of improvisatory activities in the classroom. She has written about and organised events in the area of interfaith dialogue using music, currently the international improvising Peace Choir on ZOOM. She has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University and the Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, US. She is an international performer, especially in the work of Hildegard of Bingen. Her large-scale works for cathedrals such as Winchester, Southwark and Norwich UK involve professional musicians, community choirs, people with disabilities and school children. She is the convenor of Music, Spirituality and Wellbeing international (www.mswinternational.org). She is series editor of the Music and Spirituality series of Peter Lang, to which she has contributed 3 single-authored books and several co-authored or co-edited books. She is an Extra-ordinary Professor at North West University, South Africa. She is an ordained Anglican priest and serves All Saints Church in South London. Karin S. Hendricks is Associate Professor of Music and Chair of Music Education at Boston University. She has served as an instrumental music clinician, adjudicator, and workshop presenter throughout the United States and abroad. Karin Hendricks has served in state, national, and international music education leadership positions, including as national secretary and research committee chair for the American String Teachers Association, and on the Editorial Committee for the Journal of Research in Music Education. Her research interests include music psychology, motivation, and social justice in music learning settings, with a particular focus on positive student-teacher relationships. She publishes regularly in leading research journals and edited books, and makes a particular effort to present research findings to music teachers in meaningful and approachable ways. She was the 2018 recipient of the American String Teachers Association «Emergent String Researcher» Award. Before moving to the university level, Karin enjoyed a successful public school orchestra career for 13 years, where she won local, state, and national awards for her teaching. Karin Hendricks has published six books, including Compassionate Music Teaching.


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