Everyone who knows me knows I am a compulsive chorister. I float around looking for places to lend my voice and have had the pleasure of singing in many, many different choral ensembles, from symphony choruses, to opera choruses, to octets, consorts and collegiums.
I recently came upon a cover letter I wrote, unsuccessfully to a professional women's chorus in Boston who were looking for new members. Being, "of a certain age," I am not always "the droid they are looking for," nevertheless, I was pretty impressed with my frankness and enthusiasm. Here is a snippet of the letter,
"My resume factually outlines my experience but it doesn't begin to express how proud I am of the work I have done up to this point or how hopeful I am for future creative collaborations. A resume isn't able to express my personal philosophy that all living things on the planet benefit from music; hearts and minds expand exponentially and when all hope is lost, a song can bring solace.
In short, I sing with children and the elderly. I sing with amateurs and professionals. I sing with my friends and my neighbors. I sing with atheists and agnostics, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, among others. I sing with the living and the dying and I would love to sing with you."
I read this awhile back and immediately sent off for permission to reprint. I love the way the author backs up some of the assertions about the health benefits of singing. Enjoy!
Reprinted with permission.
The Science of Singing
Turns out that opening your mouth and letting your voice ring out can catalyze a whole range of physical and emotional benefits. A growing body of research is revealing the positive impact of singing, both in groups and on your own. And there’s some evidence to suggest that you can enjoy those boons whether you’re a trained vocalist or an enthusiastic amateur. Here’s the lowdown on the science of singing.
It’s a mood-boosting, stress-busting practice.
Science suggests that people with regular singing routines experience increases in the feel-good chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
According to Stacey Horn, author of Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing With Others, “What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.” In her Time feature, “Singing Changes Your Brain,” Horn also cites a study in which singers exhibited lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Mantra music superstar Deva Premal, who is touring the United States this spring with her partner, Miten, agrees. “When you sing, you lift yourself up. It also relaxes your nerves and releases tension.”
It may boost immunity.
A study on the benefits of music, published in 2013 in Trends in Cognitive Science, noted three studies finding that people who sang in a choir displayed greater increases in secretory immunoglobulin A (S-IgA), an antibody that enhances our immune defense, as compared to people who simply listened to a choir sing. And a 2016 study suggests that singing in groups may increase levels of immune proteins called cytokines in cancer patients.
It helps us bond with each other.
According to a 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, group singing can help us form close bonds with each other within the span of just two hours. Other research suggests that group singing in particular increases levels of oxytocin, which is associated with trust and bonding (or what scientists refer to as “social affiliation”).
Kripalu presenter Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, has experienced this firsthand. “Once, during a Q&A after a book reading, somebody asked me what my go-to karaoke song was,” she recalls. “I had everybody whip out their phones and pull up the lyrics to ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ by John Denver. We all sang it together. It was meant to be funny, but by the end of the song, 900 people were raising their voices as one, swaying with their arms around strangers. It kind of put everyone in the room into the same spiritual and emotional and breathing space. It was one of the best nights I’ve ever had speaking. Now I try to lead karaoke at my book readings whenever I can.”
From a yogic perspective, says Deva, “When we sing together in a group, we are all breathing together in the same rhythm and we are all making our breath be heard in the same way. That makes the group vibrate as one whole.”
It may improve depression, sleep, and memory function.
In 2012, researchers teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation to publish the results of a small pilot study conducted on the potential benefits of a chant-centric, eight-week practice called the Kirtan Kriya. This study suggested that the practice may improve depression, sleep, and memory function in adults with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment.
Other studies, cited by researchers including Aniruddh D. Patel, author of Music, Language, and the Brain, and a former senior fellow at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, suggest that singing improves other cognitive abilities, including working memory, information processing, and the ability to sustain goal-directed attention.
A 2009 study found that trained singers develop better verbal working memory and show higher activation in the basal ganglia than non-singers, “resulting in more efficient information processing and implicit motor control,” according to the study’s authors. Singers also show increased activation in portions of the prefrontal cortex responsible for maintaining goal-directed attention through changing sensory information.
It may improve heart health.
According to Horn, “Regular singing is positively linked with cardiovascular fitness.” A small study published in a peer-reviewed medical journal called The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that reciting the rosary or singing “a slow mantra” may have a positive influence on cardiovascular health—notably by slowing respiration rate and thus, cardiovascular rhythms.
And then there are the deeper benefits …
Some experts cite benefits of singing that are harder for scientists to measure. Kripalu presenter Claude Stein, an award-winning voice coach who has worked with artists on labels such as Warner Brothers and Atlantic, observes, “With the correct guidance, singing can ennoble our darkest fears and our deepest unspoken desires. It can help us create beautiful, inspiring music that changes the world around us and leaves us in a state of triumph.”
What, exactly, does that look like? “It’s the shy singer who finally turns into Tina Turner,” he says. "The self-conscious, trained singer who lets go of technique and sings from her soul. The man who fears that he might be unworthy or judged negatively, who reclaims his power and sings out his truth. It’s the magic that happens when you finally give voice to a part of your core self.”
This is a helpful guide I am reproducing from the Full Voice because it is so important to share.
1. Voice teachers are not interested in changing your "sound." Every singer has a unique sound. We want to help you discover your entire voice, develop it and learn to care for it.
2. Make a commitment. If you want to see results, you need to commit to lessons for at least 6 months. Taking only a couple of lessons with any teacher could leave one confused or frustrated. Change and improvement take time.
3. Perform. Have an outlet to use and hone your new skills. Join a choir, sing at church or perform karaoke with friends. Share your sounds!
4. Technique is never perfected. Never. Even for professional vocalists. there will always be small corrections to make which help one sing and perform better. Explore your sound and your vocal ability with an open mind.
5. Correction and critique is a good thing. It does not mean you are a bad singer. If you are serious about being your best then you want your voice teacher to offer as much constructive feedback as possible.Their expertise is like gold! Do not leave your lesson without something new and challenging to work on or some new ideas to think about.
6. We need to hear mistakes. The notes you can't sing well, those are the ones we want to hear the most. The exercises you struggle with are where the high quality learning happens. When we can identify your weaknesses, we can join together to work them out.
7. Sing without hesitation. (This might be an extension of #6) We love hearing all of your voice. This includes the bad notes and sounds that make you uncomfortable. When you can sing out without fearing mistakes, your lessons will get more interesting and effective. (AND FUN!)
8. Challenge yourself. Limiting yourself to songs you like is fun in the beginning. Try singing something completely out of your comfort zone. You might find you like it just as well if not better.
9. Make peace with your voice. No one likes the way they sound on recordings, not even professionals. Teachers can help you hear yourself without hang-ups. (and we ALL have hang-ups)
10. We want to work WITH you, not against you. We are a team. Trust that we want the best for you and your health. Work with us and the sky is the limit.
Are you willing to work together to build your voice? Will you listen to us and apply the suggestions? Are you ready for singing lessons?
LET"S DO THIS!