Monthly Archives: May 2010

Singing can revitalize both body and soul

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/

Singing is good for your health!!


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Performing to exhaustion

The little engine that could (I think I can, I think I can)…keep on keepin’ on … never give up … it ain’t over ’til it’s over …

I can go on, but I would be here all day coming up with all the clichés  ever written about persistence. Of course it is the male of the species who have perfected the fine art of using sports analogies to describe their personal as well as business lives. When they close a deal, they’ve hit a home run, when they’re sick, they’re down for the count and when someone works well with others, he’s a real team player.

When I do strength training, I have been instructed to continue what I am doing until I can no longer perform it.  In this case, failure IS an option, but all the small failures I experience are for the sake of a greater goal – fewer  pounds on the scale, good health, a firm body and hopefully a few years tacked on to my life expectancy.  Exercising to failure may sound depressing on the surface, but it really doesn’t really feel that way.  All it means is that when my heart begins to work a little overtime, heavy-breathing takes over, beads of perspiration form on my forehead begin to appear and my arms or legs (or abs) can no longer tolerate the exercise I have been tasked to perform, it’s time to let go of the exercise for a little while. The next time I do it, however, I can perform at an even higher level. And that makes me feel great.

Do you sometimes feel that you are banging your head on the wall, trying to accomplish something that just keeps throwing you backwards repeatedly?  Take heart.  Each time you try again, you have learned something new from your last failure.  Recently I have been working hard to apply what I learned as a real estate trainer to my new career as a compliance trainer for employer groups.  I remember the feeling of confidence I once had when I could field any question, have something clever to say at every turn, and know I would get appreciative feedback by the end of the training class.

If I was that person before, it only makes sense that I can be that person again — only BETTER!  Instead of being merely informed, I will become the expert. Instead of being clever, I will become inspiring. And instead of getting head nods and a few compliments, I will aim for rave reviews.  That same feeling of having helped the people I’ve trained will resurface and I know I will smile like a kid gloating over new toys at Christmas. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities and even more exciting to see good changes taking place as I perform to exhaustion — only to get up and do it again a little better the next time around.

If you’re in the same shoes as I am – trying hard to make a difference while having to get back up over and over again, I am rooting for you.  Remember, some guy somewhere said:

“Success and failure. We think of them as opposites, but they are really not. They are companions —  the hero and the sidekick.”

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