What I did on my summer vacation

photo by Brenda Tremblay

In my parallel life as a church musician, I have the privilege of playing the organ and directing a dynamic choir in a small town Episcopal parish.  Usually the choir disbands in July and August, and there’s not much going on between Sundays.  But this year, I started a non-religious music group called Summer Renaissance! On Thursday nights, I flung the church’s red doors wide open and invited people of all ages to read madrigals and motets.   

Once word got out, I felt some mild, recurring panic.  Would anyone actually show up?

They did!  A mix of people came from my town, plus many from Rochester and elsewhere.  One guy drove all the way from Keuka Lake with his recorder. On our fullest nights we welcomed about two dozen singers, ranging in age from teenagers to octogenarians.  Pedestrians enjoying twilight in a beautiful canal town regularly strolled in, admired our church windows, and sat down to listen.  We learned some delicious music, made delightful new acquaintances, and I personally developed a fresh admiration for people who take risks.   


On a deeper level, Summer Renaissance! promoted good health and community spirit. A study published this summer in Frontiers in Neuroscience confirms what most singers already instinctively know -- that when they work together, their heartbeats and breathing patterns synchronize.  That explains in part why singing with other people is good for your health.  It also suggests that making music enhances the spirit of cooperation in a group because it helps regulate activity in the vagus nerve which is linked to emotions and communication.

Oh, and it’s usually pretty fun.

My heartfelt thanks extends to all of the friends who offered expert advice and music. Elizabeth Banner, the local high school chorus teacher, lent a complete set of the A Cappella Singer, music books full of songs about nymphs, fairies, and the yearning for love.  Summer Renaissance! also succeeded in part thanks to others who helped promote it, including Caurie Putnam of the Democrat and Chronicle and my wonderful colleagues at Classical 91.5, WXXI-FM.   Thank you.

Finally, let me encourage you to sing. In the shower, in the car, with a friend, with a uke, home alone, in a choir, into the woods. Just do it.