Could a Community Choir Make You Happier and Healthier?

Community choir
Photo: Sam Saunders via Flickr

When was the last time you really sang your heart out with a bunch of other people? I’m talking about enthusiastic singing, not the kind where you half-heartedly, half-asleep sing your way through a hymn at church on Sunday morning. Church, however, seems be one of the last places people in America still sing together on a regular basis – and church attendance has fallen sharply in recent years.

Singing in a group feels good. Think of joining in on “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch at a baseball game or the “Beer Barrel Polka” at Lambeau Field … none of those tens-of-thousands of fans are grumpy or embarrassed. They love it.

There used to be much more communal singing in America. Not long ago, before we became constant consumers, singing in groups was common. There were folk songs to which everyone knew the words. Families gathered around the piano or someone picked up a guitar and everyone joined in on the fun.

That’s not as common anymore. In fact, in most situations it would feel weird, right? But why?

A 2012 article in The Atlantic, “How Communal Singing Disappeared From American Life,” implicates some of the usual suspects …

“You can blame all the usual causes for withering ‘social capital,’ from dependence on electronic entertainment, to lengthening work days that reduce free time, to an ever more diverse society, in which your songs are not mine. The elevation of the American Idol model and the demotion of the casual crooner is a real discouragement to amateurs as well … The fact that Americans sometimes devolve into the simple chant, ‘U.S.A.! U.S.A.!’; also seems like a sign of extreme melody atrophy.”

Karen Loew, The Atlantic, March 2012

Try to be “that person” who encourages people to participate in an impromptu sign-along and you’re likely to get plenty of eye rolls — much like Andy’s attempts to start an end-of-the-workday singing tradition on The Office.

Singing in groups has been an integral part of human history, helping to tell stories, teach lessons, create bonds, and communicate within tribes. Jeremy Montagu of Oxford University goes as far as saying the story of music is the story of humans. An article by Montagu, published in Frontiers in Sociology, suggests making music together formed important bonds among early human families, hunters, and warriors.

“It has even been suggested that music, in causing such bonding, created not only the family but society itself, bringing individuals together who might otherwise have led solitary lives.”

Jeremy Montagu, “How Music and Instruments Began: A Brief Overview of the Origin and Entire Development of Music, from Its Earliest Stages”

Solitary living has become common in our society. Sometimes, it’s by choice. Other times, it gets forced upon us — like with the quarantines, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. But as we venture out and interact with other humans again, maybe we should take things a step further and strike up a song. It may even boost our immune systems!

Author Daniel Pink has become a proponent of community singing. He wrote about its importance in his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, saying “Choral singing might be the new exercise.

The physical and mental health benefits of singing together

Pink cites research indicating choral singing can improve lung function, calm the heart, release endorphins, and increase the pain threshold, which could reduce dependence on prescription painkillers.

UK researchers Jacques Launay and Eiluned Pearce also say the “new science of singing together” reveals many mental and physical advantages:

  • Reducing the stress hormone, cortisol, and increasing the Immunoglobulin A antibody
  • Improving breathing, posture, and muscle tension
  • Elevating your mood and sense of happiness or well-being
  • Potentially staving off dementia and increasing memory

But, perhaps most importantly, singing in a group creates a sense of belonging that’s crucial to the mental health of humans. Belonging, after all, is smack-dab in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

There’s so much division in our country and our community right now. What we need more than anything is a way to feel a little less angry with each other and less afraid of each other. Maybe a little singing together could bring us together.

What if The Creative Mission started a community choir?

One of the goals of The Creative Mission is to enrich the lives of people in our community through creative acts — like singing together.

A community choir that’s open to anyone and everyone can do that in two ways. It will benefit the health and wellbeing of those who participate in the choir. It will benefit the people who get to hear the music a community choir creates, and perhaps, inspire them to join in, too.

Imagine a group of all ages, singing together in parks, elderly care facilities, prisons, or wherever there’s a need to uplift spirits with music. It’s doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful and beneficial.

Are you interested?

Fill out the form below and let us know. We’d love to hear from those interested in leading a new community choir as well as those who’d want to participate. So, let’s get in touch.

Watch a TED Talk on singing together

Categories: Music

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