Image: William Sidney Mount, Bar-room Scene 1835, CC Wikipedia Commons.
As jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler once said: ‘Music is the healing force of the universe.’ The therapeutic properties of music are widely known, with a number of studies demonstrating that listening to particular styles of music, particularly classical music, can reduce stress levels, aid concentration. Singing, too, has a range of demonstrated health benefits.
‘Singing is a whole-body experience that engages the brain (both logical and emotional sides), the breath, many muscle groups and creates a sense of well-being in the act of creating with others. Singing requires a focus that takes one away from the usual day-to-day thoughts,’ the board of the Australian National Choral Association (ANCA) said in a statement to ArtsHub.
Singing and pain management
Dr Jennifer Bibbs is a registered Music Therapist and Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at St. Vincent’s Hospital for the The University of Melbourne. Speaking on behalf of the Australian Music Therapy Association, she spoke in detail about the correlation between stress and singing.
‘The hormones released in our brain when we sing are associated with feelings of pleasure. Endorphins and oxytocin have been found to relieve stress and anxiety and improve mood. That’s why, when we sing in a group, we feel good,’ Bibbs explained.
‘Recent research has also shown that singing in a choir can lower the level of cortisol in our body, which reduces stress. There are also social benefits to participation in singing and music groups. Connecting with others, having a sense of purpose and belonging to a group or community are all experienced by people who sing and play music together.’
A notable research study, The Therapeutic Effects of Singing in Neurological Disorders states: ‘Singing in particular can serve as a valuable therapeutic tool because it is a universal form of musical expression that is as natural as speaking.’
Given the benefits singing provides, it’s no surprise that more and more people are seeking communities outside of work to alleviate the stresses present in their work environments.
Bibbs explained, ‘Singing in a choir is associated with increased social support which can prevent isolation, depression and anxiety. Creative expression through singing can also help to relieve stress and improve our mood.’
With One Voice
If you are thinking about joining a choir instead of heading to the pub to deal with your work-related stresses, you have a range of options. Not-for-profit organisation Creativity Australia offer several initiatives that focus on music and choir participation, such as With One Voice. Anyone can join a With One Voice choir, which are led by professional conductors and meet once a week. People are encouraged, through music, to let their emotions out.
Sing! Sing! Sing!
In Perth you can do both: join a choir and head to the pub. Sing! Sing! Sing! is comprised of more than 40 people who meet once a month to share their love of singing and be part of an inclusive community.
Victoria Wyatt, Sing! Sing! Sing! Choir Coordinator said: ‘Being a pub choir we have simple ambitions, as we are not aiming towards an onstage performance or anything, but are building a community of people who love singing, love coming out on a Tuesday night, and feel like we nailed something when we conquer a basic harmony!’
The idea of the choir came to her while she was surfing the web, Wyatt explained. ‘I saw a YouTube clip where what looked like several hundred people were singing along to Rufus Wainwright, doing a cover of ‘Hallelujah’ in what looked like an amazing abandoned warehouse.
‘The whole crowd had song-sheets and were doing harmonies along with the band on stage and the effect made all my arm hairs stand on end, it was beautiful.
‘The amazing thing is that you can visually see the immediate surface physical benefits of singing as the hour or so goes by, as people’s faces light up, their toes start tapping and voices get louder and more confident really quickly. I think we are so used to going through our routines, settling in for some TV of an evening, that when we do something remotely different our body thanks us for it.’
Anyone is welcome at Sing! Sing! Sing! Wyatt explained: ‘I am not a particularly good singer, but I started this as I wanted to do something that created a community, and choir is so good for bonding quickly as singing is a real icebreaker. You get to see different sides of people’s personalities quicker, and whether people come by themselves or with little groups of colleagues or friends, everyone leaves smiling and chatting to everyone else.’
Find a choir
ANCA offers an online tool to help you Find a Choir. It’s as easy as it sounds. With over 1,000 members Australia wide, ANCA has choirs representing nearly every age, style and genre. All you need to do is type in your location and a list of choirs and their details are made available. You could even start your own choir group.
Overall positive well-being for singers
Choirs meet many needs – they give a sense of community, of belonging and of shared experience, as well as providing a creative and therapeutic outlet.
The ANCA said: ‘Choirs require less resources than many other forms of music making – e.g. minimal need for instruments as for bands and orchestras – so it is cost effective and available to all ages.’
Wyatt agreed: ‘I can see that actively participating in the music rather than listening to it passively contributes to people’s well-being, even just for the hour and a half we are together. I am buzzing for a good couple of hours after choir, and even when we had only 11 people at our first meeting, we laughed, we chatted, we put ourselves in other people’s shoes for an hour and forgot about our worries!
‘Holding it at a pub probably helps with both the social bonding and actual singing,’ she added.