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Finding community in Vancouver: a gospel experience

How one busy woman found community in the big city: in the well-respected, multi-faith Universal Gospel Choir. Check them out at their upcoming concert June 14 & 15, 8 pm.

Universal Gospel Choir members
Get lifted up by the joyful sounds of the Universal Gospel Choir, this Friday and Saturday, 8 pm at the Canadian Memorial United Church, 16th and Burrard. Photo Credit: Universal Gospel Choir

I’ve lived in the Lower Mainland for more than a decade and have quite a few people I could call friends, but I have still felt disconnected, isolated, and alone way more often than I would like. Many of my friends feel the same way.

So do way too many people who live here, according to a recent Vancouver Foundation study. Another recent study on the state of friendship showed that it’s not just Vancouver – all over the States too, there is a “crisis of friendship”, and I suspect it’s across North America.

So it’s not just me. But what’s a working mom/artist/wife/person to do? I tried various classes like yoga and painting, but they didn’t really have the social component that I was looking for.

Meanwhile my friend Avril had been raving about her choir - the Universal Gospel Choir - a well-respected multi-faith, social-justice-oriented choir in the city that sings a wide variety of music styles. I’d heard that singing in a choir lessens depression, and I could use a regular mood boost through the rainy winter months.

Good vibrations

So I walked into the Universal Gospel Choir’s rehearsal space at St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage one Monday night late last September. The church is a round building with colourful banners hanging from the ceiling. Lots of people were milling around.

A big, friendly bass singer named Terry immediately noticed me and greeted me like a long-lost friend. Within minutes, three other people had spied a newbie in their midst and came to greet me warmly. “Wow,” I thought. “They actually mean it.”

I sat down to sing with them for the evening. We sang a wide range of fun music from gospel to blues to Cuban to African chants to Hebrew prayers. And it sounded fantastic. (Listen here.)

Sitting in amongst eighty or so people singing together about peace, kindness and spirit in four-part harmony is a wonderful experience. The vibration of all those voices did something to me physiologically, too. There is something in this “choir is good for you” idea.

Universal Gospel Choir in concert

The science behind the joy of singing

A study by Grape et al showed that singing increases oxytocin - the “cuddle hormone” that makes you feel warm and snuggly. In a BC Choral Federation census of choirs across the province, “Singers overwhelmingly report that choral participation improves their lives and their contributions to society in many ways.”  

At the end of each rehearsal the choir does something called “circling up”. That first night, we all stood in a circle and sang happy birthday in four-part harmony to a woman who glowed in delight.

Then someone mentioned that a former long-time member was in hospital, and a schedule was set up for regular visits from choir members. That clinched it for me. Amazing music, caring people, I'm in!

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