The email caused excitement! “Senior Choir will rehearse in the Chapel this coming Wednesday, 5 March.” They could finally come together again, appropriately distanced in a large, well ventilated space, to re-connect and enjoy a sense of belonging and wellbeing.
There are many well documented, physical benefits associated with singing. Doing so, exercises the diaphragm, abdominal muscles and the inter-costal muscles between the ribs which work to support the sound, ensuring that the full capacity of the lungs can provide adequate, well controlled breath pressure. Vocal students become aware of the importance of posture – keeping the spine straight, the head and neck well aligned. Singing fosters clear thinking, improves memory, boosts our immune system, releases stress, increases energy levels and can improve heart health. There’s evidence to suggest that singing can help to synchronise heartbeats, as often happens during a guided meditation when all participants are focused on breath management, a visual image or a sound.
Singing is the perfect natural therapy for our physical health but what is it that gives singers such a sense of euphoria? Why do my choristers need to sing?
In terms of mental health, singing releases endorphins which are polypeptides made by the pituitary gland and central nervous system. Endorphins reduce the stress hormone cortisol. The sense of pleasure associated with the release of endorphins is due to the increased production of the chemical dopamine, known as one of the “happy hormones” and can best be described as neuro-transmitters, sending signals from our body to our brain. My vocal students have described this sensation as quite a rush! After a singing lesson they feel positive, energised and uplifted.
Whilst physically singing, the chemicals released within the body not only decrease symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression, they help to modify and enrich self-concept, building confidence and self-esteem. Current research supports that singing together has even greater benefits.
Singers, bound by a common interest and a whole-hearted commitment to their choir, build a strong sense of community. A community where everyone’s contribution is highly valued. One where tolerance, understanding and the importance of supporting each other is learnt, and practised.
Lunchtime rehearsals in schools are difficult. Students are often held up and they need time to eat some lunch and catch their breath after a busy morning. On Wednesday 5 March, I walked towards the Chapel and saw my choir standing outside. They had rushed over, eaten something quickly and there was a “buzz” in the air. They wanted to sing – they needed to sing!
Written by Janet Dawson, Director of Music, Genazzano FCJ College