I promise the following melodramatic story is going to go somewhere, so please just bear with me.
A few months ago, I broke my finger pushing my boyfriend on some swings. As well as being incredibly embarrassing to explain to everybody, it also meant I couldn’t play any music for six weeks. SIX. WEEKS. Music has always been my favourite way to express myself and to just generally deal with whatever is going on in my life, but suddenly I couldn’t play my piano, guitar or clarinet and to be honest I felt a bit lost without them. Was I just going to spend the next month-and-a-bit permanently stressed and emotionally stunted? How else was I going to annoy my parents? Would I remember how to play ANYTHING?
Thankfully, I still had one thing to help me through this dark, almost music-less time in my life. I could still sing. I could still belt out Disney songs and Musical soundtracks in the shower and in my car. And this realisation that singing would always be there for me sparked a long train of thought, which eventually led to this slightly convoluted blog post. (A post that I’m hoping, as are you probably, is going to get to the point very soon.)
Whilst at university, I was lucky enough to be able to work with a couple of children’s choirs. I’ve always loved singing with others, and being able to share this with kids and young people was a privilege. One of the main things I noticed, and which always brought a smile to my face, was the unashamed joy with which they sang. There was no self-consciousness or self-doubt, they just sang their hearts out and the feeling was infectious. I even saw this carefree singing when I worked in nurseries with two and three-year-olds. I remember one particular moment when a little boy suddenly started belting out Jingle Bells in mid-July, and then a group of about five other kids all joined in and I was subjected to a spontaneous carol concert.
But for a lot of people, there seems to be a point as we age that this kind of singing stops. We get too concerned with how it sounds, whether we’re any good, whether people will laugh at us if they hear our singing voice. I’m not saying we should all start singing Christmas songs in public places in the middle of summer, but it’s disheartening that, as adults, so many of us are missing out on one of life’s simple pleasures. The kind of high you get from singing to yourself in the car, or shower, or into a hairbrush in front of the mirror, is multiplied ten thousand times when you get to share it with a group of people.
Yes, this probably sounds a little bit cheesy, but the feeling I got from singing in a huge choir whilst at university was the highlight of my week, every week, for three years. For those two and a half hours, all of the stress and worries I had about my degree, and student life generally, disappeared and I went home feeling happy, empowered and supported by a wonderful group of people. The fact that all these students from different courses and backgrounds, some trained singers but most not, could come together every week and create such brilliant music was magical to me. And it’s something I believe everybody should experience.
No one should be held back because they think they ‘can’t sing’. Everybody can sing. Every person with a voice can make music with it. But for some reason, making music often isn’t seen as important anymore. (But that’s a whole separate issue of music being squeezed out of education which makes me SO ANGRY but I won’t go into that now. Breathe.) We’re all supposed to get our daily dose of exercise to maintain our physical health, but what about our mental health? Where’s the government recommendations on how to maintain that? You only have to do a quick search on google to discover that the benefits of singing in a choir are astonishing. (Links to some articles I used for research are at the end of this post.)
There’s a reason why singing along to songs in a car with your friends leaves you with such a good feeling. Singing with others leads to a decrease in stress, depression and anxiety. It reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and causes the body to release endorphins, ‘feelgood’ chemicals associated with pleasure, which is a similar rush to when we laugh or eat chocolate. We also release the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love’ hormone, which is often released when we hug, and enhances trust and bonding with our fellow singers.
It’s also been found that when we sing in groups, our heartbeats and breathing synchronise, which leads to lower blood pressure along with increased levels of oxygen in the blood and better circulation. Choral singers also have an increase in antibodies to fight illness, better posture and stronger respiratory muscles. Yes, many group activities can lead to a sense of bonding and togetherness. But I firmly believe there is something unique about singing together. Something special about synchronised moving and breathing and coming together to create a piece of music, to create something bigger than yourself.
OK, that got a bit cheesy again, I apologise. But seriously. Go and sing. Find a choir, join the chorus of a local musical, set up your own group, or just be like the three-year-old I worked with and start an impromptu carol concert in a restaurant with your friends.
Sing your heart out and be happy.
There, I got to the point eventually.
TTFN, tata for now