Singing – nurturing the mind & healing the body

What’s an easy and inexpensive way to counter the stressful impacts of today’s fast, techno-charged way of life?  It’s been around as long as living memory and everyone has access to it…singing.

Singers have long reaped the rewards of their passion, and in recent years scientific studies and research has validated a long-held belief: that singing is one one of the best activities for your happiness, health and well-being.

You may have read already that singing is good for you physically. Like other forms of exercise, the act of singing stimulates the production of many healthy chemicals in the brain such as endorphins, nature’s mood enhancer and pain reliever. It also encourages deep, controlled breathing, a healthy posture and good circulation. What’s not to like?

Singing and learning new music is also a great workout for the brain, improving memory and concentration along the way. In fact, singing along to music is commonly used as a recall technique and healing therapy for patients with neurological diseases or injuries, according to the Australian Music Therapy Association.

But it’s how these wonderful benefits increase exponentially when you sing in a group that makes singing such a powerful therapy. Research has started to focus on the social benefits…building strong relationships quickly, creating a sense of connectedness and belonging to a community all working to the same end – creating beautiful noises!

And this is where it’s so valuable in our world of media and technology, where social networking can be rather than social, instead rather isolating, impersonal and depressing, particularly in difficult times.

I came upon a life-changing example of this beautiful phenomenon in rural NSW earlier in my music career. About 11 years ago the town of Muningai, a small cotton-farming town, was struggling after a two-year period of drought. They decided to put on a music festival to encourage people into the town, to boost income and morale.

I was invited to lead the festival choir – my first experience of leading an adult choir.  So many men and women had an ingrained misconception: “I can’t sing!” I hadn’t experienced this before, having worked with children. But the community’s willingness to give choir a go, and their receptiveness to the experience was wonderful, and I witnessed many adults unleash personal inhibitions and blockages.

I watched them sing, smile and experience a sense of connection, of being part of something greater than the sum of its individual parts.

The festival was a huge success. It gave the town an injection of new energy and personality, so helpful during such a difficult time. The local choir experienced a sustained groundswell of momentum, and the music festival became a biennial event for quite a while.

It was this first-hand experience that led to the creation of the Hummingsong Community Choirs in Sydney’s north. Since 2012 we’ve grown from one women’s choir to a network of eight, including one men’s choir which started last month. We sing beautiful repertoire from a wide range of musical styles. But first and foremost, we have a strong focus on building community within the choirs, while supporting those less fortunate in our local communities. In four years we’ve already raised and donated over $100,000 to six local women’s refuges.

So the scientific research suggests it and my own experience suggested it. But last year I was curious to do a little informal investigating of my own. I invited everyone in the Hummingsong community, almost 400 women, to suggest two or three words that described their personal experience of singing in a choir.  Here’s just a snippet of the avalanche of the responses I received: uplifting, joyous, challenging, heartfelt, fun, empowering, me-time, positive, peaceful, buzzing, recipes, opportunities.

Of course it’s very common for adults to feel that their voice isn’t “good enough” or “strong enough”. The thing about singing in a choir is that your voice only gets stronger by using it, and being one voice in a large group allows you the opportunity to build your confidence over time. There’s safety in numbers! Developing strength in your voice should be approached much the same way as one would with any muscle strength building activity for the body. You wouldn’t attempt a marathon after not having run for a very long time, so small steps and you’ll get there and be surprised by the majesty of your voice. So what have you got to lose?

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Anna Humberstone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Hummingsong Community Choirs, and a trained music teacher. To find a choir new and start reaping the benefits of singing visit:  www.hummingsong.com.au

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