We live in an age of disposable celebrities, stage-managed stardom and auto-tuning. “Ordinary” voices are silenced by this competitive process coming into our living rooms. Even for the lucky winners of TV talent shows, fame can be cruel and fleeting. Among all this pressure to look and sound a certain way, how do we nurture and celebrate our own unique voices?
Singing nourishes our hearts and minds. Yet so many of us have been told we can’t sing. If not by celebrity judges, live on TV, then certainly by our parents, children, partners or teachers. This is taking a serious toll on our collective wellbeing, self-esteem and creativity.
A brief history of song
Before there were governments or nations, tribes and groups used songs and dance to build loyalty to the group, transmit vital information and ward off enemies. Those who sang survived.
Even in our parents or grandparents’ generations, there was a time when everyone sang. We sat around campfires, at church and at school. We sang our stories and our dreams. We sang alone and we sang together. Nowadays not many of us sing. Our education is largely to blame and we worry that people will think we are strange or that we will be judged and not as good as the celebrities we idolise.
As workaday stress and media consumption make us ever more isolated, rates of anxiety and depression rise. So, it is fundamentally important to nurture the attributes of humans that set us apart from machines: love, compassion, creativity, courage and so on.
When we regularly engage in authentic, free singing and other creative pursuits, we build bridges of understanding between diverse people and feel part of a bigger, connected universe.
Get smart, sing daily
Neuroscience studies have shown singing can make us happier, healthier, smarter and more creative. Every time you sing, you fire up the right temporal lobe of your brain, and release endorphins including oxytocin which result in heightened states of pleasure, bliss, bonding and love.
These chemicals also enhance neuroplasticity of our brains, boost our immune system, fight illness and help us handle pain better. What’s more, choral singers have been shown to have enhanced neuroplasticity, synchronised heartbeats and enter patterns of yogic breathing. So what better activity for one’s mental health than a daily dose of song?
We spend about 85% of our time in the left side of our brain, which deals with logic and analytics.This drains our mental battery. The right side of our brains, which deals with intuition, emotion, creativity and fantasy, needs to be recharged. Activities which recharge our brains include meditation, being in nature, connecting with loved ones and – you guessed it – singing with others.
Ten reasons to make singing your drug of choice:
- Release endorphins and increases levels of oxytocin.
- Improve posture, breathing and blood-flow.
- Save money: our voice is our free human instrument.
- Create new neural pathways and improve brain meta-plasticity.
- Ward off age-related decline by continuously ‘exercising’ your brain.
- Heal depression, strokes and speech abnormalities.
- Promote social bonding and cohesion; and rediscover your own identity.
- Relieve mental health issues; feel happier, better connected and supported.
- Connect with other diverse voices and your community.
- Be smarter, healthier, happier and more creative.
But what if I can’t sing?
Singing is not about being a star or knowing how to do it well. It’s about enjoying the gift of our voices and sharing it with others. We were born to sing. It’s primal and it’s tribal. Voice is the language of our hearts. It’s how we express ourselves. And it’s very important to our mental, physical and social well-being.If you can sing in the shower, you can sing.
A song for the future
Happy, healthy, empowered individuals and supportive communities are better-placed to solve some of society’s biggest challenges, such as mental illness, loneliness and isolation, cultural tension and unemployment. The emerging global singing movement is proving that paths to brighter futures can be found through the simple act of singing. Think of YouTube’s many heart-warming flash mobs, or organisations like Playing For Change and World Singing Day.
At Creativity Australia’s our With One Voice choirs are welcoming people of all ages and backgrounds for singing that focuses not on winners or dreams of stardom but on social inclusion.
Swinburne University research showed 98% of participants experienced less stress, 91% improved social bonds and 66% feel less depressed. That’s why With One Voice program has also been named one of Australia’s top social innovations in Anthill’s SMART 100 for the past three years.
Our latest project Sing for Good is extending the value singing offers by inviting singers to upload a video and use it to raise money for people to participate in singing projects.
So, before you judge someone singing on a TV talent show, on YouTube or even in the street, take a moment to appreciate their inner voice… and maybe even join them in song.