St Paul’s Knightsbridge, a church in west London has been given a grant to research the scientific impact that music has on listeners in a liturgical setting.
The research which is sponsored by Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science (ECLAS) will be carried out from September 2022 until July 2023; will be looking at the music’s capacity of the spiritual, mental and corporeal well-being of the listener.
Although it is already known that music has an effect on lower heart rates and enhances happiness, it is the first time that music in the context of worship is being studied and a grant is being given for such purpose.
The director of music at St Paul’s Knightsbridge Dr Joseph Fort said the context in which music is listened to is key for this research.
He said, “The interesting thing about a lot of these psychological studies is that, often, aiming to get every sort of scientific results, music kind of comes out of its context.”
“So you might be put into an FMRI machine and have your brain scan, while you’re listening to a piece of music, or you might be wired up with all sorts of cables monitoring your heartbeat and the difficulty, I think, with all of that is, that it is taking music so far out of its context so that you’re experiencing it differently. And what we want to do with this, is keep music in the context that it’s there for,” he continued.
People will be invited to attend a mid-week service to take part in the research.
Dr Fort added, “We’re trying to reach our current congregation, but also reach people who might not come to church regularly on a Sunday morning, so services will be on a Thursday evening, once a month.
“And they won’t be overly long, they’ll probably be about 45 minutes, and we’ve given ourselves a lot of flexibility in what we’re going to do.
“You might walk into the service and it’ll be very contemplative, you might listen to a five-minute piece of music and just become aware of your body in that time, you might contemplate a painting, for example.
“But all of this will be in the context of worship, there’ll be scripture, there’ll be prayer and it’ll also be encouraging people to kind of reflect on themselves and think, ‘Well, what’s this? What’s the effect of this on me?”