Singing Joy to the World

In the dark of December comes the gradual returning of light. It is a time for celebration and joy.

Xmas 2015 adj - Singing Joy to the World

One way to express that joy is to sing in community.

I love to sing. I guess that’s because I grew up in a family that sang. Throughout my early childhood, my parents and two sisters gathered around the piano to harmonize folk songs and sing old army tunes.

At Christmas time the playlist switched to carols. My sister played the piano while my father accompanied on guitar. Our chorus would swell with the addition of grandparents and friends. Harmony went every which way. It was fun. So taken was my mother by the Christmas spirit she often broke out in song while driving down Route 1 on last minute errands.

As I grew older this family singing tradition gradually slipped away, first the folksongs and then even the carols. My siblings and I moved from home and our lives got too busy. We were lucky to make it home for Christmas day.

I miss the singing. Sometimes my husband and I play music together — he on dulcimer and I on guitar and I sing old folk songs. But I sing alone. George does not sing. He did not come from a family that sang.

There are a lot of good reasons to restore my family’s tradition of communal singing. Music is important to human health and happiness.

A report in USA Today  lists 20 science-backed benefits of music including: reduced pain, increased physical performance, better sleep and less stress. The documentary “Alive Inside” poignantly demonstrates the power of music to evoke memory and re-engagement in dementia patients. Music is powerful medicine.

And singing makes music even better. It opens the lungs, the throat and the heart. The sound vibrates inside and feels wonderful.

This experience is further enhanced when combined with other. A sound that starts inside of you combines with the sounds of others and blossoms into harmony. You feel the others, their energy and you resonate in unity. It is uplifting and inspiring.

Why don’t we do this more?

Often it is fear that holds us back from engaging in song. There may be concern about not being good enough, or seeming silly or doing it wrong.

I know this fear even with all my early childhood practice.

Right after my close friend Marianne died at the end of 2009, I sang a verse from the Quran — Al Fatiha, which means “the opening.” Marianne had studied with the same Sufi master I did, and we had learned many verses together. It seemed so appropriate. But I was scared in that moment before opening my mouth. Her brother and sister-in-law were standing right there. Would they think I was weird? More of this strange Sufi stuff of Maryanne’s they never understood? But it was now or never. Marianne’s death gave me courage. I began quietly and a friend unexpectedly joined in. She hadn’t been to Sufi camp in years, but she knew the song and our voices swelled in unison. I am proud of that moment, of stepping up and maybe appearing the fool. The song eased the tension, expressed the sorrow and gave me peace. I hope it helped Marianne as well.

Those of you facing the holidays after a significant loss may find singing a great avenue of release. It can loosen the hurt and holding in your heart while eliciting memories that can trigger tears. Tears are good. They release the energy build-up of grief that, as a society, we have been conditioned to restrain. Releasing this energy brings relief.

When you sing with others you greatly enhance the experience as mentioned above and also open to the vibrational support of community. It’s like getting a hundred hugs.

Peace on earth good will to humankind.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief, Loss and Death Expert Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps professional women struggling with grief and loss to have peace-of-mind, closure and a life worth living. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at


  1. yes, Michele….

    When I lived with hunter-gatherers in West Papua, New Guinea, there was song and ceremony for every occasion.
    And the voices were powerful, fierce, tender all under one thatched roof, or out in the canoes, or walking on the big logs
    that helped keep bare feet mud-free in the tidal villages upriver.

    Life is song, is sound, is vibration, even and especially the big wailing choruses that parade the length of the village
    after a villager dies.

    Love to you and your music,

  2. Michele, You are so right singing stirs us deeply. Music can completely move me to tears and joy in one chorus. Often I am left feeling better and full of joy after singing just a few bars of Joy to the World. I may have tears running down my checks but it always feels good and the tears help to cleanse what needs to be cleansed. Beautiful article thanks for the reminder!

    • Michelle Peticolas says:

      Hi Susan,
      Glad you enjoyed my blog post. I plan to put more singing into my life and not just during the holidays.

  3. Dear Michelle. I had a pretty rough childhood raised in the 50’s by an abusive and alcoholic father in NYC, but when my father played music and sang those old Irish lullabies all the physical and emotional pain he inflicted melted away in those moments and there was pure joy throughout our innocent hearts and our rundown tenement apartment! Singing and music does shift the soul of the psyche even if momentarily! Thanks for sharing your story and today’s blog, too! Very insightful! Love working with you! Thank you !

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