#TellHisStory: How Singing Changes Everything

February 4, 2015 | 56 comments

It happened like this:

The girls were in the two back seats of the car. The tunes were cranked up ear-split loud, to the max, because that’s how we roll.

“Let’s sing it, girls! Let me hear ya,” I cheered. And so we all found a part to sing, a trio of one mother and two daughters. This was our little way of raising the roof of the world a half-centimeter higher.

We kinda rocked it.

Anna took the melody, while Lydia and I slid around the notes to find the harmony. I couldn’t squint my eyes as much as I would have liked, because I was driving. You never know what you might encounter out here on the country roads of Iowa. One has to be cautious.

But despite the threat of livestock on the thoroughfare, I did keep the beat with a subtle Mama Head Bob.

And when we were really on our game, the girls and I had three different parts going. I could feel the chords inside of me, and it felt like a tuning fork. It rattled me good.

We kept getting our groove on, one song after another. The playlist included: “Jar of Hearts” (don’t judge) and “Joy to the World” (even though it’s February), and more.

It’s impossible for me to overstate how much I love singing harmony with my loves.

It’s impossible for me to exaggerate how magical and transcendent it all feels, to sing at the top of my lungs with my people.

For me, singing in harmony is this great unifier — every part of everybody is working together to make a song.

It doesn’t matter that the girls were squabbling earlier, or that I was the World’s Worst Mom an hour ago because I enforce curfews and seat belts. Because now we are singing. We are making music together. It’s beautiful.

And for a while, we forget about the junk that makes us feel so messy inside. We forget about Anna’s math test, and Lydia’s basketball game, and All Things Junior High. I forget about the blur of loneliness that I sometimes feel.

When the music is on, I belong to the people making the song with me. And it is enough. Music speaks everything that words cannot. But it’s more than just the music. It’s the making of music together, in multiple parts.

How can I describe this to you? I feel at a loss. Maybe we can sing together sometime? Am I making any sense?

I’m thinking about all of this now, because I turned 43 years old on Monday. On the morning of my birthday, I looked back on my life, and I was thinking how some of my happiest moments bloomed in the space of a song.

Here it is on the playback. My life:

– Sitting on the wooden pew in the Methodist Church, listening to Mom, Sheryl and Janet sing Gaither songs. I’d hum under my breath with The Trio, trying to find the second soprano part. I was age six.

– Joining the community choir to sing Handel’s Messiah, and feeling a profound sense of satisfaction when the room sounded so full with the color of music. I sang alto. I was twelve, and I tried to hide the awkwardness of my surprising tears.

– Singing in round with my sisters under the stars, and picking parts in The Music Man’s “Pick A Little/Good Night Ladies.” I was fourteen.

– Singing show tunes in the dorm-shower stalls at Iowa State University, at the top of our lungs, with my best friend Carla. We were nineteen.

– Hanging with our best friends, out by a lake, with the moon high overhead, and our eyes pinched tight, while we sang “Dancing Lucinda.” We were grown adults, with children sleeping inside, and we were tremendously loud. (I’ve lost count, how many times we’ve sung that song with those dear people.)

– Standing in a village, in Haiti, with a language barrier. We couldn’t talk, so we made up praise music, and sang in two-part harmony, with dirt under our feet, tin over our heads. I didn’t want it to end, because it made my Haitian friend’s pain momentarily disappear.

– Making a mad dash toward the front of the gym in December at the junior high/high school Christmas concert. The choir director invited anyone who knew the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah to come forward. I practically ran to the front. I still knew the alto. I still felt the tears.

– Reuniting with The Trio — Mom, Sheryl and Janet — a few months ago in Janet’s hospice room. We all found the notes again. We all made harmony with Gaither music. It vibrated the inner tuning fork, and days later, Janet passed away.

Did I tell you yet that I’m not a great singer?

I’m decidedly mediocre. I can carry a tune, and I can find the harmony. But I’m not a great singer, and I’m not trying to be humble here when I tell you that.

But singing makes me crazy happy. I don’t always sing because I’m happy, but I always find happiness when I sing.

I searched around this morning to see if there was some science behind the joy of making music with others. There is.

I came across a story on NPR, “How Singing with Others Changes Your Life.” A behavioral neuroscientist named Daniel Levitin validated what our hearts know:

“… when we sing, it brings us outside ourselves. It forces us to think about what another person is doing. We’ve got to pay attention to what someone else is doing, coordinate our actions with theirs, and it really does pull us out of ourselves. And all of that activates a part of the frontal cortex that’s responsible for how you see yourself in the world, and whether you see yourself as part of a group or alone. And this is a powerful effect.”

Plus, the scientist said, there’s a whole neurochemistry to singing, because it actually releases oxytocin — which creates a sense of well-being and trust toward others.

That makes sense to me. That explains the sacred place that we go when we sing, together, in harmony. It’s the color of hope. It’s the taste of surprising tears.

And it’s the sound of the world’s roof, creaking a half-centimeter higher — lifting up to the beat of your favorite song.

Your Turn

Tell me about a song you like to sing. Can you remember a time when singing felt especially sacred?

A #TellHisStory Announcement

In two weeks (Feb. 17) the #TellHisStory linkup will go live at 4 p.m. (CT), instead of midnight. I needed to make the time change because I’m a terrible procrastinator, and deadlines trick me into getting stuff done. I was spending too many Tuesday nights at the computer writing my post, instead of hanging out with my family. And in doing so, I was missing out on the chance to harmonize, among other things. 🙂


Hey Tell His Story crew! It’s always a joy to gather here every week. You’re welcome to link up below. If you would use the badge on your blog, that would be great. And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! You guys are the best.

Be sure to check the sidebar later this week. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Kelly is last week’s featured writer.



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by | February 4, 2015 | 56 comments


  1. Becky Keife

    What sweet memory making with your girls and precious life-reflecting. Can you even imagine what joy will stir in your heart when you join the chorus of angels singing heavenly praises? Can’t even fathom the glory!

    I’m a truly terrible singer, but I so get what you’re saying…it’s probably why I tried out for the musical every year in high school despite my lack of talent and why it gives me God-giddy chills when my tiny guys join in with me singing their bedtime songs of Gentle Shepherd, In the Secret Place, or Blessed Be Your Name. Making music together–a blessing indeed!

    • dukeslee

      So sweet, Becky. Thank you for sharing!

  2. JViola79

    Loved reading your memories this morning. I have always blasted my music in the car. Somehow it kept everything away from me & all the goodness in my car 🙂 My favorite music memory right now is picking up Sophia from pre-school & having her request “God’s Great Dance Floor”. We could only sing it loud if the sunroof was open & our windows half down. Somehow I think we are all the best singers when it gets to God’s ears! Loved this post!
    PS – I love what you shared about music scientifically. God knew how good it would be for us to worship! It is for our own good in so many ways.

    • dukeslee

      Joanne, Thanks for sharing your sweet story about Sophia. The girls and I raised the roof just a half-centimeter … but you tore the whole roof off! 😀

  3. Katie Reid

    Oh friend, yes. Singing in a few hospital rooms, while folks were dying, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Holy ground.

    • dukeslee

      Oh. Yes. Those are tender moments. I have felt that, in hospitals and hospice rooms. Holy ground indeed.

  4. Betsy Cruz

    Oh Jennifer! This is a lovely post! So lovely. I love singing with my kids too. We belt out “Oh Happy Day” and preach the gospel to ourselves some mornings before starting home school. For weeks, last fall we laughed ourselves silly while belting out Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” So much fun.

    • dukeslee

      I love it, Betsy! What a fun story. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  5. Anita

    Singing often brings me to tears–there’s something profound about a community belting out their praise or their angst to our Savior. But most of all, I love listening to my daughter sing. My prayer is that one day she desires more than anything else to use her talent to bring praise to her Savior. But, that has to be her dream and desire. Until then, I just get as close as I can when she sings ;).

    • dukeslee

      I, too, love when my daughters sing. I love the way their voices blend. … How old is your daughter, Anita?

      • Anita

        She’s 20 :). I’ve posted a few of her songs on youtube (kettleheadhats) and my Facebook page. My alto voice has a one octave range and works best when I’m singing next to someone who knows what they’re doing ;).

  6. melody hester

    This post was really enlightening to me. I do not sing well at.all. My name is “melody” and I’m a pastor’s wife – insert self shame and guilt for not having one iota of musical anything in my body besides my name. I do love to sing and dance (alone!) – I’m just totally off beat, off tune and never on time. Ha! The story of my life but I’m sort of okay with it. But that NPR report – that’s very interesting. And your experiences of how singing sort of transcends everything else….I’m giving second thought to singing a little louder with other people.Who knows I just might shock and scare everyone by joining the choir Sunday. My husband would have a heart attack and that would not be good. So I might just start out by humming.

    • dukeslee

      Oh Melody, you crack me UP! And I love your little gravatar. I’ll bet you’re a total kick to be around — whether you can carry a tune or not. 🙂

  7. Danise Jurado

    I don’t know how to find the harmony – but I do love to sing along with beautiful songs… Hope your birthday was wonderful and filled with lots of goodness and love! OMGosh! I tweeted you – but I just have to say… LOVE the picture of cattle in the middle of the road! made me feel like I was in Iowa! Love to you 🙂

    • dukeslee

      Isn’t it hilarious? That actually happened in the summer — note the green grass — but I couldn’t resist adding that photo to this post. 🙂

  8. BlessingCounter - Deb Wolf

    A belated Happy Birthday. Music, singing . . . praise, it makes a heart soar. Harmony is my favorite too. It not only makes the music richer it is a beautiful analogy for life. Thanks and blessings.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you for the birthday greeting, Deb! Yes, harmony is a beautiful analogy for life. And I love the birthday song in harmony. 🙂

  9. Tarissa Helms

    Jennifer, I don’t know what it is about your posts, but they always strike a chord with me. {giggle} In all seriousness, this brought tears to my eyes. Some of my best memories were made around a piano in three-part harmony with my mom and grandma, while my Papaw listened quietly from the back of the room. Sending you belated birthday hugs and best wishes! Thanks for this lovely post!

    • dukeslee

      Nice play on words there, Tarissa. 😉 I took “note” of it. Ha!

      Thank you for sharing your sweet memory with me. And thank you for the birthday wishes!

  10. Becky Lee

    How about a room full of cousins 6-15y/o singing I believe the Hallelujah chorus over and over and over and over at Christmas break!!!!!!

  11. Lyli Dunbar

    Jennifer, this post made me all kinds of happy this morning. Harmony is good for the soul. 🙂


  12. Laura Rath

    I love this post Jennifer! Just beautiful!

  13. Janet

    Hi Jennifer, I love this post – it brings up many memories of family singing together – not just my immediate family (sisters, Mom and Dad), but extended family as well. We have been extremely blessed with the musical talents of my Aunts and cousins and I remember many family reunions when banjos and guitars were picked up and passed around, and the harmony definitely raised the roof. Thanks for the smile this morning, and happy belated birthday to you.

  14. Ellen Chauvin

    Oh, how I love to sing praise music while I’m driving to work! One day I’m pretty sure I’ll get pulled over for speeding. Is “But officer, I was listening to Mandisa!” and acceptable excuse?

  15. donna

    I love this! Confession: I am one of those people who sometimes burst into song in answer to questions or instead of commenting in the midst of conversation. I mean, when you have the perfect lyrics, you should sing them, right?

    Shared this.

  16. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Jennifer, just love this! You expressed such joy so beautifully!! Singing is my middle name, and I can’t escape it. I sing constantly at home, whether officially practicing or not, and I sing in cars, parking lots, public bathrooms, grocery stores, you name it. There’s always a song on my lips. I love the joy you have unleashed through song with your daughters. It will bond you like nothing else can. Our whole family is musical, and how often we have gathered the generations in song around the piano. My favorite playing was my grandmother’s. You could just barely hum a tune, and after a few scrambles across the keys, she’d nail it and take off, flying–embellishing the piece like a player piano. And my father’s voice was not to be matched. I am writing about this in an upcoming blogpost. How I miss hearing his basso-profundo richness. He and I often sang at weddings and funerals together. And Sheridan and I have loved singing together as well–mostly duets in church; but last year, she joined my Bach chorus for the season. To share this with her was the capstone of all our singing and such a joy for this mother’s heart. God asked me to give up singing for many years, but has recently reintroduced it professionally back into my life. Still, it didn’t stop me from singing along life’s way. In this piece I wrote, a paragraph was removed (with good reason), but I’d like to share it here. “Music is God’s language, His language of longing and love, His celestial speech for angels, His heavenly dialogue for men. Scripture says that God rejoices over us with singing; and we, His image-bearers, sing His love song back to Him. Singing is our heart’s cry, our soul’s breath, our utterance of eloquence when speech runs dry. What our mind can’t say, our heart can sing.” Keep singing, Jennifer; keep letting your heart burst forth with music. I think you will be closer to God then that at almost any time of your life. And I couldn’t resist sharing our short recordings from Bach’s Magnificat. He was a composer who loved Christ and magnified Him in the most majestic music known to man. I hope you enjoy it. I’m on the front row, second from left with pearls. http://bach.csl.edu/media/video

  17. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Singing is like breathing for me, Jennifer. I’d have to say of all my favorite times doing so, the most memorable time, indelibly etched in my memory, was singing ‘Softly and Tenderly’ in my mother in law’s hospital room with friends and family 4 weeks ago….She loved it! She passed away 11 days later. Heaven will be like that, I think (the singing, not passing away).

    “Good night ladies, good night ladies, we’re going to see you now….” (When we finally meet some day, I’ll sing that part.)

  18. Tiffany

    Happy belated birthday to you…I’m singing it for you just so you know. 😉 I’m not a great singer either but when life sets me spinning I’ve been known to draw a hot bath and blast my All Sons and Daughters soundtrack to just stop, soak, and worship Him – my sacred place. Thanks for sharing this lovely moment and the joy you shared with your kiddos.

  19. Megan Willome

    Just one more reason for me to love you, Jennifer. We need to sing together sometime!

    The other day I was driving my daughter back to school. She’d come home to get some rest. She turned on her music and sang. I don’t know the words well enough to sing along (most of the bands are international), but it’s just so nice to hear her singing. Made my day.

    • dukeslee

      I’m only now getting back to read these beautiful comments. I would LOVE to sing with you. I am warning you. I’m not a great singer, but I can carry a tune, and I love searching around for the harmony. And yeah … signing with our kiddos is pure gift.

  20. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    I love this post, Jennifer! As I was reading, I kept thinking about the verse in Zephaniah where it says that God sings over us. Incredible, isn’t it?

    I don’t sing well, either, but I’d love to sing His praises with you and yours! 🙂

    Love the pic of the cow in the road. Where I live, we watch out for deer while we are driving.

    Thanks for the beautiful post and the link-up. Blessings to you and yours. And Happy Birthday to you!

  21. Karrilee Aggett

    Oh my friend, yes!!! From one not so stellar singer but complete worshiper to another… yes! I married into a family of singers – you know, ones who can SANG… they harmonize on Happy Birthday and you have never heard so much beauty, and when we sing the Doxology before a meal, goodness – the angels join in, I just know it! I just saw a little interview with Anne Hathaway about her upcoming movie… I can’t know if it is something I would endorse, per say – but it is all about music and the power of music! Intriguing, yes? Love you, friend!

  22. Monica Snyder

    I love to sing Hymns. I grew up with the hardback blue Trinity Hymnal. Sunday mornings after my sisters and I were ready for church we gathered around our old Wurlitzer spinet piano and lifted up hearts and voices to Jesus. It didn’t matter how we had just argued over primping time in the one bathroom or the clothes and shoes we shared, our voices joined in harmony and the lyrics and notes melted away sibling sin. Rochelle, a soprano. Me, an alto. Alecia, a tenor. My dad, a bass. My favorite hymn was “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.” My playlists are full of many other kinds of music, but I find myself playing Hymns more than anything else.

  23. saltshakmk@msn.com

    I hear ya, Jennifer. Love singing along with my own CD’s and grew up singing show tunes. If ever I needed a jolt of “feel good” an MGM movie musical is a “go-to”–knowing all the words they are too much fun to sing along with. It is a good and precious gift the Lord gives us in our voice. And cleansing, when we pour it out to Him in song. Bet He sings along, too.

  24. Martha Jane Orlando

    Happy belated birthday to you, Jennifer! Oh, how your post today sang to my heart. I’m most blessed and fortunate to sing each Sunday at our church’s contemporary service with my husband and the band. And yes, I do sing harmony! There is nothing more inspiring and uplifting than hearing the notes intertwine to create a magic all it’s own between the band members and which also reaches out to embrace the congregation. I love the words you wrote here: But singing makes me crazy happy. I don’t always sing because I’m happy, but I always find happiness when I sing.
    Amen, my sister, amen!

  25. Nancy Ruegg

    Music has been an important part of my life since I was born. Mom and Dad sang in a traveling quartet that ministered in the Chicago area, on Moody Radio, and at summer conferences in Indiana. Our house was always filled with music. In grade school I discovered how to sing harmony, and have been adding second soprano or alto ever since–in choirs, ensembles, trios, and duets.

    Choosing one time when singing felt especially sacred is difficult. I’m remembering multiple praise team experiences when it felt as if GOD was singing with us. I think also of choir anthems that made me cry, such as “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” and “Total Praise” (from Brooklyn Tabernacle). The musical worship experience, “God with Us,” by Don Moen took us to the very gates of heaven. We sang with the angels! Then there was that glorious duet of “Calvary Came Through” (also from Brooklyn Tab), when I had the opportunity to sing with a superior soprano that filled my entire being with holy shivers! You see? The choice is impossible!

  26. Michelle Anderson

    I do love to sing and like you I would say I am mediocre. But I sing when I ride my bike. I sing whenever the music is on. I cry when I sing worship music because I am reminded how thankful I am for the Lord forgiving my foolishness and taking me back. My memory is triggered by music. Certain songs remind me of where I was, how old I was. It’s pretty incredible how a song can trigger things long forgotten. Keep raising the roof Jennifer and I’ll keep raising mine. 🙂

  27. Jennifer Camp

    We sing around here a lot, too–and I am not the best singer. I love how it doesn’t matter, and how it encourages us to be real with one another. Now, the only thing missing in this post is audio! 🙂

  28. DeanneMoore

    The grandgirls and I turn the bass low and listen to LeCrae “Ain’t Talking “Bout Nothin.’ It’s the only thing that will keep Liv awake until we can get home from school for nap time 🙂 It’s works and it’s fun. So thankful for a car I can drive with one hand because I worship in the car when I am alone…or maybe, not so alone…sun roof open, hand in the air. I sang with Haitians this Christmas… singing Silent Night with those kids did me in….I won’t ever get over it.

  29. Laura Lynn Brown

    Oh my goodness yes. Yes, yes, yes. You are making so much sense. I love to sing too. To and with others. (Have I ever committed a random act of singing at you?)

    “Barges” in Girl Scouts.

    Campfire singing every night, Camp Concern, Raccoon Creek State Park.

    College Church of Christ, Searcy, Arkansas, early 1980s, just before the 4 p.m. Sunday service, when someone would start something and we’d all join in, no leader, no individuals, just all of us blending in one voice.

    Messiah, fall 2008 with the Arkansas Choral Society, and a Messiah singalong around 1990 or so at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh with my aunt and my friend Sally.

    Potluck music nights during grad school in Pittsburgh, at Sally’s house, and Liz and Mark’s house, with selections from the Sally and the Fleckertones songbook. Especially “Moondance,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Gloria,” “Scarborough Fair” and “London Homesick Blues.”

    “I’ll Walk Beside You” with my bandmates Peggy and Judy.

    “It Is Well With My Soul” at my father’s funeral.

    A Christmas Eve family songfest at Mom2’s sister’s house, and more singing a few nights later with her kids and grandkids at her house.

    “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” at The Glen, and Jumping Tandem, and Hutchmoot, and Laity Lodge …

    I could go on. I might need to write my own piece. Thanks for asking. Let’s sing next time we’re someplace together.

    • Laura Lynn Brown

      Oh, and “Silent Night” on Christmas eves in rooms lit only by our own candles, passing the flame from one to the next; and “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” on the band bus; and the Thanksgiving ditties and George Washington song and other songs my daughter brought home from school, especially before she could read; and the songs Mom would sing to me to help me to go sleep; and the time my great-aunt and I sang “I’ll Fly Away” in her kitchen …

    • dukeslee

      Yes! You have committed a random act of singing with me. 🙂 … You know what I want to do? I want to be in one of those flash mobs, where people seem to “randomly” start singing in some public place. I know it’s all scripted out. I don’t care. I want to be in one.

      Also, this one isn’t really a flash mob, but it made me so happy to watch. Listen to this:


  30. Elizabeth Stewart

    I grew up in a family that sang together. We harmonized together in the car, while we washed the dishes, and in the hard wooden pews at church singing songs out of the old red hymnal. I sang with my daughters, and now enjoy singing with my grandkids. I feel so sad that singing together is missing in most of our present day homes and schools.

  31. Dawn

    We consistently break out in song in our house, though I never know the name of the song or the singer and usually I am missing parts of the song. My kids fill in the gap. So many memories around notes and voices lifted up in joy together… you are right, there is a belonging and there is a tendency to float on the joy that erupts because we make lyrics work with pitch in beauty. Those bad mom moments, do sort slip away when the music makes its way into the day. My kids remember the fun dancing in the kitchen and the silly tunes we make up more than the other. Thanks for reminding me to sing. 😉

  32. Kathryn Shirey

    I’m terrible at singing, but music does move my soul. I love having ‘dance party’ with the kids on the way to school. Music cranked up and dancing like fools, all laughing and smiling. Putting the current ‘soundtrack’ to my life on repeat and listening throughout my day at work – giving me that bit of hope I need to get through a rough day or encouragement to tackle the next step. Love the power of a song!

  33. Jen

    So glad I made a point to stop by here and link up this week. It’s been too long! 🙂 I completely get the words you have written above. I love to sing! But more than singing alone, I love to sing with others. But my most favorite things ever? Singing with my mom and sister and singing with our 14 yr. old son. I can’t tell you the joy it brings to have a teen who isn’t afraid to get up in front of church and sing with me! He has way more guts than I had at that age. 🙂

    • dukeslee

      SO very glad you stopped by, Jen. thanks for sharing!

  34. Sandra Heska King

    This must be why I feel a special bond with Mama D. Because we sang together under the moon–though hundreds of miles apart.

    I’ve always loved to sing… from standing on a salt lick stand pretending to be Patti Page to singing Johnny Angel as loud as I could outside on a frozen winter night–only changing the name and half hoping the neighbor boy would hear–to singing a medley from Sound of Music in a beauty pageant, and singing in various size choirs as well as in solos and duets and trios. I used to claim I sang with my heart. I don’t have a great voice, but I remember when I was told by someone who had that I hit a perfect high A. But the most sacred time was when my sister and I sang Amazing Grace at my mom’s funeral.

    • dukeslee

      Yep! You are a sister from another mother. Love you, SHK.

  35. Christy @christylouhoo

    I LOVE this song! It stirs my soul-especially for the verse below! I am practically bursting by the time I sing it! I love the passage it is based upon-Hebrews 11. I am a gospel-girl! Fire, in my bones fo’sho’!!!

    By faith this mountain shall be moved
    And the power of the gospel shall
    For we know in Christ all things are possible
    For all who call
    upon His name

    We will stand as children of the promise
    We will fix our eyes on Him our
    soul’s reward
    Till the race is finished and the work is done
    We’ll walk
    by faith and not by sight


    • dukeslee

      I love the Gettys hymns. Thanks Christy, for sharing.

  36. Amber Cadenas

    Oh Jennifer. This stirs me in so many ways, and the story you tell here is itself a song that makes me want to join in harmony with my own part. It’s un-exaggeratingly beautiful. Thank you for this gift.

    • dukeslee

      Grateful for your words, Amber.

  37. Elizabeth Duncan

    I know it sounds crazy, but I’m a 31 year old woman who loves belting Let It Go from Frozen in her car every day. I’m no Idina, but it makes me feel good. 🙂

    • dukeslee

      Ha! Not crazy at all, Elizabeth. I’d belt it out with you.



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