For many of us, there are few more exhilarating accomplishments than vocally creating the sounds of a composer’s musical score. The thrill of singing begins when you’re little and a teacher or youth choir director encourages you to match the sounds you hear with your voice. When this is done at an early age, children can mimic the sounds they hear, just as they can easily learn nursery rhymes, foreign languages and, unfortunately, some adult words you’d rather they forgot.
I have been involved in choral singing since elementary school, singing songs like “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go…” a my second grade teacher led our little voices with great enthusiasm. As a teen, I began playing guitar to accompany myself as I sang Peter, Paul and Mary’s Leaving on a Jet Plane, making my dorm mates cry over their boyfriends back home. By age 21, I joined my church choir, learning the beautiful Byzantine minor tones written hundreds of years ago and more contemporarily arranged for soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices.
Most recently, I began singing in adult choral groups that required auditions, which can be a slightly rattling process. It was then that I realized how much work a conductor must do to make a rag-tag group of adults with voices of different colors, ranges, and abilities sound like a cohesive, melodious union able to perform the works of Bach, Handel and the like.
So what about us midlife adults? What can choral singing do for us? New research suggests that choral work might be just what your body wants.
According to Victoria Meredith, a University of Western Ontario professor, participation in choral music leads to increased respiratory function, improved overall health, a heightened immune system and improved brain function. Meredith also concludes that performing in a choir “can keep you younger and healthier for longer,” pointing to similar studies that found people who sing on a regular basis require fewer doctors’ visits, are less prone to falls, don’t need as much medication, and are less likely to be depressed. She used the school’s adult choirs as a “live research lab” and concluded that group sing-alongs may offer the benefits of exercise without the humiliation of sports bras and tank tops.
Meredith’s research with four choirs, whose members varied in age from 18 to 84, spanned two years. Her investigation looked at everything from breath control and vocal range to anecdotal information such as whether or not the choristers felt happier or more aware of their bodies when they performed.
“Individual participant responses included such comments as: ‘Singing keeps my mind more agile,’ ‘Singing increases the amount of joy in my life’ (and) ‘My breathing is better – even after lung surgery,'” says Meredith, noting that the observations align closely with those of George Washington University’s three-year study on the impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on older adults.
Though Meredith remarks that many of the documented benefits of singing are “of a psychological nature, related to being part of a group with shared goals,” researchers have also discovered compelling evidence for physical advantages. A disease-fighting protein called slgA was found to increase by 150% during choir rehearsals and 240% during performances.
John McMillan, a Canadian musician and choir director, may be living proof of the power of song. Since he began performing choral music 13 years ago, McMillan says he gets sick less often, has more energy, and feels generally happier.
“When (a show) goes well and you feel like you’ve positively affected other people, it affects you, too,” says McMillan, 28. “I feel rejuvenated after a performance – kind of like my soul has been revitalized.”
Source: M. Harris/Canada.com