I like to sing. I always have. As little girls, my sister and I used to sing duets in harmony. Our favorites were “Harbor Lights” and “You Belong to Me.” I sang in the children’s choir at our parish, in our high school glee club, and now in the choir at our provincial center. That’s why a recent article in The Washington Post by Alexandra Moe caught my attention. She said that recent research has shown that singing is good for you, especially singing with others.
The article began with a woman in London named Hazel Hardy. Every Wednesday she travels for choir practice to a church on the other side of town. Her choir is not an ordinary choir though. All the members are individuals familiar with cancer—as patients (like Hazel), caregivers, and oncologists. They come together not to talk about cancer. But to sing and have a little fun.
After rehearsals, some singers provide a saliva sample to researchers studying whether singing affects the choir members’ health and mood. It does. In fact, there is a growing body of research that points to the physical and mental benefits of singing with others. Singing together can reduce stress hormones and increase cytokines, proteins that can boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.
Other studies have shown that singing can lessen anxiety, stimulate memory for those with dementia, increase lung capacity, and ease postpartum depression. Stanley Thurston is the founder of the Heritage Signature Chorale in D.C. to preserve African American choral music. He says, “Choirs are large families.” They promote social bonding which contributes to a sense of belonging. They also can give the members a sense of achievement after months of working on a beautiful musical work.
In 2019, some 54 million Americans sang in choirs. By and large, those who did tended to be “more optimistic, more likely to vote, less lonely, possessed stronger relationships, and were more likely to contribute to their communities than non-singers.” Singing can be calming too. Lullabies calm the baby, yes, but they can also calm the singer.
But what if you can’t sing? “If you can breathe and make sound, you can sing and receive its benefits,” says researcher Suzi Zumpe. She incorporates music to help relieve breathlessness and anxiety for people with long Covid.
I’m wondering how many of you sing–perhaps in the shower, when you’re alone in your house or your car. Or when you pray. And how many of you sing in a choir or with another group—such as the congregation in church. Have you personally experienced any of the health benefits of singing?
The first song Hazel Hardy’s choir learned was “I Can See Clearly Now.” But their real “showstopper” was “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. The choir sings the words of that song to their cancer. And they sing with gusto: “Go on now go, walk out the door, just turn around now, ’cause you’re not welcome anymore.” Says Stanley Thurston, singing “affects the way you feel about being alive. It’s an expression of, ‘Yes, I am here.’ It feeds my soul.”
Did anything catch your attention in this reflection?
Do you sing in a choir, with another group, or at Mass? Have you experienced any benefits from signing with others?
Would you add any other benefits you’ve experienced by singing—either alone or with others?
A nice surprise: Do you remember the short British movie I posted, Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times ? I posted it on January 9, 2023. You can find it simply by going to the search box at the top on the right and typing in “two strangers.” I was surprised and delighted last week to find a comment from Marcus Markou himself–the man who made the film! Here’s what he said:
Hello there. I found this by accident. This is the filmmaker of Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times. Thank you for sharing it! I loved the comments!
Once again his words highlight how important your comments are! You never know who’s going to read this blog!
Our video is a special version of Gloria Gaynor’s song, “I Will Survive.” Here she sings the song with patients and supporters at Miami’s Children’s Hospital. She has adapted the words of her original song to: “I Will Survive Bald, Brave, and Beautiful.” I found this video very inspiring…
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