Dr. Leanne Foster’s Address at this year’s Holiday Dinners:
Listening to the girls sing this evening, I was reminded of an article that appeared in last Monday’s Globe and Mail, entitled, “Odes to Joy: Researchers study the uplifting power of singing.” I think anyone who has been part of a choir can attest to that wonderful feeling that comes over you when each person’s voice comes together in perfect harmony. Or the wonder you experience when singing in unison makes one voice indistinguishable from the other. In moments like these, when my daughter Olivia was young, she would say the dolphins in her brain made her happy. (I believe she meant endorphins.) And that’s exactly what the researchers found. Singing, more than team sports or card games, generates strong feelings of social connectedness , lowering the stress hormone cortisol, while increasing oxytocin, that special hormone we produce when we experience feelings of love. I don’t know about you, but the idea that singing could be an antidote for the malaise of modern times sounds pretty appealing, particularly these days when we seem to be losing sight of what brings us together.
In today’s media, much of the focus seems to be on things that divide us. Increasingly, we see how some politicians work to highlight these divisions, claiming that the people who don’t agree with them are not only wrong, but often dangerous. In some cases, they whip up their supporters into such an emotional frenzy that it’s impossible for either side to have healthy dialogue. And we know that without open communication, without listening to one another, the likelihood of us finding common ground and resolving our differences diminishes greatly. Perhaps, we should pass legislation requiring that all debate in parliament or all political discussion on CNN or CBC must be sung, never spoken. Just think how the world might change.
More than 100 years ago, music did change the world, if only for a brief moment in time. It was December 1914, five months into the start of the First World War, and Pope Benedict XV called for a Christmas Truce. Although no formal cease fire was called, something miraculous happened at points all along the front line. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict put down their guns. And this miraculous moment of peace started with a song. German soldiers, hunkered down in the trenches began to sing carols. At first, the allied troops, Canadian soldiers among them, thought it was a trick. But soon they saw German soldiers walking towards them across no-man’s-land, calling out Fröliche Weinachten, or Merry Christmas in German.
In letters and diaries soldiers described this moment in history. Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade wrote, “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ [and] the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations, both singing the same carol, in the middle of a war.”
More than 100 years has passed since that incredible moment. I know a lot has changed since then. I know the world is a different place. But I would like to believe that kindness, empathy, understanding, compassion – I’d like to believe that these things remain at the core of what it means to be human. So in the spirit of the holidays, please reflect on these values, raise them high, raise them loud, and as a suggestion, raise them in song!
From everyone here at the Castle, we wish you a wonderful and peaceful holiday season.