I have a not-so-secret obsession with podcasts on behavioral science. The Happiness Lab, A Slight Change of Plans, and Choiceology are a few of my favorites, and I get excited when a new episode comes out in time for my morning run. The latest hot topic among these behavioral scientists is a subject musicians and their audiences have long been familiar with. The topic is the feeling of awe and, more specifically, collective effervescence. In his book, “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life,” Dacher Keltner touts collective effervescence as one of the eight wonders of life that we can find awe in. Organizational Psychologist and Wharton Professor (and the popular kid in the behavioral science world) Adam Grant explains the history of the term, “We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence. It’s a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.”(NYT).
Chicago a cappella audiences know collective effervescence–that shiver up your spine when the ensemble finishes your favorite song, locked in a perfectly tuned jazz chord; that “WOW!” you can’t help from exclaiming after Cari holds a high note longer than you thought possible; that urge to clap (or get up and dance!) when Joe starts a vocal percussion riff. Collective effervescence is the joy of being a part of a big audience of fellow humans, thrilled to be attending an event in person, and sharing a moment together.
During the holidays, some seek collective effervescence out of a feeling of happy nostalgia, but it’s important to recognize others seek it as a comfort during a painful time of grief. This season’s Holidays a cappella program offers a fitting spectrum of repertoire. A chillingly beautiful arrangement of “Gabriel’s Message” by the late Paul Nicholson offers a mystical sense of wonder, and the familiar Al Hanisim brings a rhythmic playfulness, but my own favorite part might be hearing Ace Gangoso exuberantly proclaiming a solo line in the Christmas Spiritual Medley.
Dr. Shira Gabriel is dedicated to her work on, “the psychological importance of spending time in large, anonymous crowds such as at concerts, sporting events, rallies, and religious gatherings.” Her work highlights the reward we feel when we ditch the couch and venture out to in-person events post-pandemic. Chicago a cappella performances are uniquely poised to offer the exact environment these scientists have described.
Keltner further quotes Émile Durkheim
“Once the individuals are gathered together, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and that quickly launches them to an extraordinary height of exaltation.”
I hope you’ll join us for one of our performances, and let us know what brings you a feeling of awe.