(this first appeared as a Daily Cup on April 14, 2011)
Community is a word that frequently comes up when people list the things most important to them about going to church – finding, participating in, helping and being helped by a community. Ten years ago the book Bowling Alone opened our eyes to all the ways that Americans have lost their connections with community-building activities, and a recent book by David Brooks, The Social Animal, hypothesizes that there is a revolution happening in human society – a movement away from the conscious mind to what lies beneath: “emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits, and social norms.” Brain research, Brooks writes, “reminds us of the relative importance of [many things, including] social connections over individual choice.”
In some ways technology seems to be isolating us more than ever. We engage in life through various screens. That word, screens…a word with many meanings, but originally denoting a shield or barrier of some kind. And yet, humans are finding ways to use technology to connect far beyond anything imaginable even twenty years ago. Think about the flashmobs that have created “happenings” around the world as divers as a snowball fight in Dupont Circle to the outburst of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” at a Swedish medical school to singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at Wannemaker’s in Philadelphia. These could not have happened without the ease of communicating on Facebook and Twitter. Connections are made on the spur of the moment via Foursquare and professional contacts maintained with LinkedIn. These are good things.
Something that created a lot of buzz in the choral music community last year was a virtual choir created by composer Eric Whitacre. In a TED talk last year he described the process for creating such a choir using YouTube. Along the way Whitacre opens up the power of choral singing to an audience that was, I suspect, largely made up of non-singers.
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If you don’t have 15 minutes to listen to Whitacre’s talk in its entirety, at least listen to the first 7 minutes, at which point an aural treat awaits you. Creating music by putting voices from around the planet together online is a powerful reminder of the beauty that is possible when a community comes together. Each voice alone is beautiful…but how much more glorious when combined.
None of this replaces the importance of a community’s physical togetherness – choral or otherwise. Perhaps hearing this TED talk, though, will inspire some people around the world to join a choir. One that meets for rehearsals, hammers out difficulties in the music, makes crazy mistakes, and glimpses God in not only the music, but in the people around them. In fact, it is knowing the people in the community – their joys, troubles, births, deaths, triumphs, illnesses – that makes glimpsing God in the music even possible.