Watching a choral performance, everyone’s mouths moving in perfect harmony, you might guess that choral singing gives its participants a sense of community, of belonging and working towards a shared goal.
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What you might not imagine that singing in a choir has positive effects on physical health, which can improve your life expectancy and quality of life.
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that singing in a group leads to the synchronisation of heart rates, and increased the variability of heart rate, which is potentially beneficial as low variability is linked to high blood pressure.
All that standing up straight helps to improve posture and deepens breathing. Professor Graham Welch of the University of London, says: ‘Singing is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the bloodstream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting.
Studies from the Goethe University and from the Royal College of Music found that amateur group singing can also help improve the immune system and, in particular, in the defence against respiratory infections and even cancer.
And it’s not just a physical workout, your brain is involved, too. Concentration improves, because you have to focus on what you’re singing and pay attention to instructions. And on the social and emotional side, singing reduces stress and anxiety as well as easing depression. There’s also a ‘performance high’ from the pleasure of being part of a performance that the audience enjoy.
Researchers from Oxford University and Stockholm University found that group singing increases the level of ‘happiness hormones’ endorphin, oxytocin and serotonin. These hormones also increase pain-tolerance thresholds, which helps people suffering chronic pain or illnesses.
In a two-year study by Canterbury Christ Church University, researchers looked at group-singing over-60s, who showed significantly reduced levels of anxiety and depression, and also improved their quality of life scores on a scale recognised by the National Institution of Clinical Excellence (NICE), which measures how cost-effective health interventions are.
Music and mingling
And there’s a social side to choirs, too (apart from whispering to your neighbour about which bar we’re on). Most have a break for a tea or coffee and a chat, and there may be a trip to the pub after rehearsals, days out and trips to concerts. Fundraising events offer another opportunity to mingle.
What if I can’t sing or read music?
Many of us say we couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but you’re almost definitely not a bad as you think. Try la-la’ing a well-known tune to a friend, and as long as they can recognise it, you should be fine. And there’s no need to worry about standing up in front of people to judge whether your voice is good enough for you to join: the surprising fact is that two-thirds of UK choirs don’t hold auditions!
Being able to read music undoubtedly helps, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Practice and repetition will help the notes and rhythm sink in, and on your sheet music you’ll get to recognise roughly how a melody runs because the notes are moving up or down the stave (the five horizontal lines that the notes are marked on), even if you can’t say whether it’s a G or an A. If you’ve ever played an instrument, that notation knowledge will start to resurface.
How to find a choir
Decide on the type of music you want to sing. Some choirs sing classical works, some focus on pop music, while others are devoted to gospel or musical theatre. Your workplace may have a singing group, or check noticeboards outside churches and community halls, as these spaces are often used for rehearsals.
You can search by postcode on British Choirs on the Net which has listings for over 4,000 UK choirs. Rock Choir is probably the best known, and the world’s largest, contemporary music choir – with no sheet music. Tuneless Choirs are for those who love singing but lack skill or confidence. There are 17 in the UK, with another six expected to start in 2018.
No wonder 2.1 million people in the UK sing in choirs, All together now…