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Research demonstrates benefits of corporate singing as new website highlights choral evensong

Posted on: October 28, 2015 8:47 AM
The Choir of Westminster Abbey, London
Photo Credit: The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

[ACNS] Singing helps people to form new friendships and relationships faster than other forms of social engagement; according to research from Oxford University’s department for experimental psychology, which suggests that religious groups benefit from corporate singing during services. Publication of the research, in the journal of the Royal Society of Open Science, coincided with the unveiling of a new online tool to help people find choral evensong services in Britain.

The research began with the premise that “singing evolved to facilitate social cohesion” and set out to test whether “bonding arises out of properties intrinsic to singing or whether any social engagement can have a similar effect.”

To test the theories, researches set up different adult education classes. Some focused on singing and others focused on crafts or creative writing. While all groups showed equal levels of connectedness at the end of the trial period (seven months); the singing groups “demonstrated a significantly greater increase in closeness” after just one month.

“This represents the first evidence for an ‘ice-breaker effect’ of singing in promoting fast cohesion between unfamiliar individuals, which bypasses the need for personal knowledge of group members gained through prolonged interaction,” the researchers say. “We argue that singing may have evolved to quickly bond large human groups of relative strangers, potentially through encouraging willingness to coordinate by enhancing positive affect.”

The researchers conclude that “Although protracted interaction is likely to be necessary in order for intimate personal relationships to develop within a group, singing may be able to kick start this process in humans: singing breaks the ice so that individuals feel closer to the group as a whole even if they do not yet know anything about the individual members.

“Such an effect may overcome time constraints on the creation of individual relationships to allow large human groups to coordinate effectively and quickly. In this regard, it is interesting that religion, another potential mechanism for connecting large numbers of individuals, often incorporates singing or chanting in groups.

“The capacity of singing to bond groups of relative strangers in humans may have played a crucial role in allowing modern humans to create and maintain much larger social networks than their evolutionary relatives, which in turn may have facilitated the colonization of risky environments across the globe.”

Wabbey _evensong

Evensong at Westminster Abbey, London. Photo: The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The publication of the research coincided with news of a new online tool to help people find choral evensong services taking place in their locality. The new website – – was devised by Dr Guy Hayward, a former choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, who was awarded his PhD for research into how group singing forms community.

“Choral evensong is one of the richest cultural treasures of Britain. But most adults don’t know about it,” Dr Hayward told the Independent newspaper.

He described the website as “a simple idea”, and added: “It allows people across the country to see that there are services near them. It can be hard to find what services are happening, where and when. Hopefully, it will make people realise what a big tradition choral evensong is. It’s at a nice time of day, between the end of work and dinner, and it’s free.”

The service will launch on 22 November – the feast of St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians – with a service at St John at Hampstead in London, during which the vicar, the Revd Stephen Tucker, will bless a laptop with a browser running on it.

“In Britain, we have been blessing the plough for hundreds of years,” Dr Hayward told the Independent. “However, to avoid electrical malfunction, we may have to stick to smudging the laptop with incense or lighting a candle near it.”