Singing makes us happy, but fewer and fewer people are flexing their vocal chords. But why? As part of the “Singen unterm Christbaum” (“Singing under the Christmas tree”) campaign, the city of Munich spontaneously brings people together who love singing during the pre-Christmas period. This year: virtually.
We conducted our self-experiment last year. If you would like to experience the special atmosphere from home again this year, you will find a link to songbooks and a musical Advent calendar at the end of the text.
On a December afternoon, Neuhauser Strasse is not exactly a place of contemplation. The stalls that cram the Christkindlmarkt and all the shop windows bask in the light of countless small shining lights. But most people simply bustle from shop to shop or are desperate to make a quick homeward getaway, with appointments and long to-do lists constantly on their minds. They shiver, pulling their shoulders and scarves up high.
Not necessarily the optimum conditions for my plan then: I want to experience the real Advent mood; and this means, above all, singing with other people. This is because, as the old saying goes, sharing in song brings near unparalleled happiness. Studies have shown that when people sing, happiness hormones are released in the body such as serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins; singing also brings with it relaxation, deep breathing and frees the mind.
To try this out, I approach some strangers on the street and ask them if they want to sing with me. But the majority of passers-by who I approach do not want to sample the happiness singing can bring or have fun: They are not looking for a silent night, they simply want to get on. Some are visibly frightened when I break their determined focus and suggest singing together. Others simply wave while some turn their backs on me, picking up the pace as they gallop away to safety. Do they know what they are missing?
Everything could be so straightforward, explains Traudi Siferlinger. “Anyone who can speak can also sing”. Good point.
Two days later, quite close by. Situated in front of Michaelskirche (church), the experts show just how to make people sing. A small stage has been erected right next to the traditional Kripperlmarkt (Nativity market). A large crowd of people has congregated. A few young individuals, many more senior in their years. “Today, we're 500-strong already” says musician and presenter Traudi Siferlinger with visible satisfaction. That is because everyone has come to sing.
With her colleague Monika Drasch and accordion player Hansi Zeller, Traudi Siferlinger is here on stage four Thursdays during Advent. Together they teach people Christmas carols – always from 5 pm onwards and without fail for half an hour. “Singen unterm Christbaum” (“Singing under the Christmas tree") is the name of the campaign. And it is not just about listening – textbook in hand – while they are performing on stage.
The musicians only give a demonstration, before working their way through the material line for line with the crowd in the pedestrian zone, all the time taking the hobby singers by the hand. “Would you like to give it a whirl” asks Monika Drasch. And, at some point, the time has come for this spontaneous choir to invigorate the evening atmosphere with a rendition of “Tochter Zion” (“Zion’s Daughter”). I must admit: Not everyone is pitch perfect, but the experience is still nice. “Singing gives people incredible energy” explains Traudi Siferlinger. “When they come together and sing as a group, they support each other and enjoy the communal experience”. Above all, this collaboration creates very special vibrations between people – “and they feel it”.
This is because singing together is, above all else, a shared experience. Without talking to each other, the singers can experience an intense exchange, while revealing something about themselves and perceiving those next to them with genuine earnest. It is another way of communicating, which becomes possible here for just a few moments.
And, at some point, the time has come for this spontaneous choir to invigorate the evening atmosphere with a rendition of “Tochter Zion” (“Zion’s Daughter”). I must admit: Not everyone is pitch perfect, but the experience is still nice.
Of course, we exchange information in the course of the day, we send and receive messages and rush through the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But those who send someone else a message are often the ones sat alone on the sofa. So it is all the more important “that people also set off and come together to be as one” says Siferlinger.
In order that everyone can come together and sing along, there is plenty of effort that goes into the behind-the-scenes planning. The square in front of the Michaelskirche is completely barrier-free. A sign language interpreter guides the hearing-impaired, while mobile hearing induction loops are also at the ready, and the text books that everyone receives also include versions with large letters and braille.
Many of my fellow singers have deliberately made the trip just to be here. But even a few passers-by spontaneously interrupt what they are doing, remain standing and then follow their curiosity to be inspired. The crucial moment is probably just when the final verse of a song has faded away. Then, for just a very brief moment, there is a silence filled with a feeling of the sublime.
And I wonder: Is that happiness? In any case, it gives me a great sense of well-being.
I remember how we somehow always sang along as children. But at some point between primary school and hitting puberty, we suddenly lose confidence in our own voice. And anyone who, as an adult, sings all day runs the risk – from a certain age at least – of being considered a little odd. In addition, music is being played in fewer and fewer family homes.
Everything could be so straightforward, explains Traudi Siferlinger. “Anyone who can speak can also sing”. Good point. You simply have to do it – be it here in the pedestrian zone, at your local sports club or in the pub. And then I realise: When in a group, the individual's willingness to sing is much higher. In the end, at least for me, it is not that hard any more.
Good to know: Would you like to experience the special atmosphere at home? You can find a collection of German and especially Bavarian Advent and Christmas songs for download here.