I want to share a piece of research with you that blew my mind when I first heard it. And I believe it will have the same wondrous effect on you. Researchers at Frontiers in Psychology were studying breathing patterns, found that singers singing together actually synchronised heart beats with one another. Just let that sink in for a moment. A bunch of human beings - physiologically separate from each other - sung through pieces of music and their heart rates rose and fell at the same time. Is that not the single most beautiful thing you’ve heard this week? If we ever wanted to make a solid case for the significance of making music - this has to be the figurative cherry on top.
Let’s be honest - when it comes to arguing the benefits of singing, we’re not exactly short of ammunition. You could, of course, call out my obvious bias at this point - when something is both your vocation and your passion, your thinking is always bound to be a little favourable. But for years, singing has been well established as a wholesome, worthwhile, life-giving activity. The rich pool of rewards in this particular field is unparalleled.
"The social and cultural developments alone that singing promotes are enough!"
In a choir, you learn languages, history, culture and compassion. I challenge you to listen to a rendition of Miserere Mei, Deus and not find your soul expand and your imagination blossom. Your empathy grows when you sing with a group as well - it has to! You’re listening to one another - truly listening - weaving melodies in and out, sharing the swells and fades as one.
The endorphins released through singing are well documented - as well as the knock on effects that have to self-perception, positivity and general wellbeing. Add to this the improvements in breathing, lung capacity and the relief of stress and it could be said that singing is one of the best, freely accessible forms of therapy in existence.
So, with this lavish list of overflowing benefits, it’s no wonder that when choirs had to stop meeting in person during the pandemic, they did the only thing they could think of doing - they went digital.
It’s safe to say we probably all got ‘zoomed out’ at some point during the pandemic, but one thing that fascinated me were my weekly choir rehearsals. I sing with City of Bristol Choir and, like many other choirs in early 2020, we moved our rehearsals online as the first lockdown came, in March.
At first, I was deeply skeptical about how effective or enjoyable these times would be. And to be honest, it was a mixed bag. But gradually, I noticed a hitherto untapped use emerging.
"Singers who were more nervous about their voices found great freedom in the mute button - suddenly they had complete safety to let rip."
I realised something in that moment. Although I will always prioritise choirs meeting in person whenever possible, there is a specific group of people for whom digital singing groups are invaluable. Whether you’re shy, reluctant, insecure or just plain introverted(!) - zoom singing sessions are your sanctuary. So, I took matters into my own hands and started running ‘get singing again’ sessions for Mirthy just over a year ago. It’s been incredible to see the engagement and transformation. People who have never dared to sing before are belting out Rodgers and Hammerstein in the safety of their own living rooms. Those who used to sing, but have lost confidence are back with a vengeance - tackling Schubert and Parry. Even those who have lost part of their vocal capacity due to injury or misuse are reclaiming that powerful, internal instrument and crooning along to Lollipop by The Chordettes.
And what an important thing this is! By training people in vocal health, warm ups and a variety of stimulating music - they’re gaining confidence, joy and the gift of unrecognisable voices! The key to it all? Allowing them the safety and dignity found behind their mute button.
Of course, it’s never going to be perfect - singing on zoom can’t match the delight of singing together in person, but we have to leave space for this digital revolution in the singing world. For those who are too embarrassed, too self-conscious or just too uncomfortable to sing out loud in front of others - it’s a life line. If you find yourself in one of those categories, for any reason, I dare you to try it - come and join a session!
So for now, you’ll find me standing on my soapbox, chucking proverbial pamphlets at anyone who will take them; “Keep Zoom Singing Alive!”. And I’ll be honest, I can’t yet give any peer-reviewed research into the benefits of singing online - it hasn’t existed long enough for people investigate. But I love to think that, in each of my sessions, those of us on the call tuning in from all over the world, might just be syncing heartbeats together.
Rest Less Events is an online platform with over 100 events every month, including educational and entertaining talks like the one described in this article.
About the Author
Julia Loveless - www.julialoveless.com
Julia is a Bristol-based vocalist with a varied portfolio. Her roots are choral, but she now works primarily as a session vocalist for songwriters and broadcasters. Whether recording BVs for someone’s album or the melody for a TV score, she’s happiest in the studio, singing her heart out.
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