Jingle…jingle…jingle. Tis the season…to sing. Just how many times have you sung “Jingle Bells” this season? Or does the tune spark memories from when you were a kid, bringing along that rush of holiday excitement? Are you teaching your own children, almost by osmosis?
I was interviewed recently about the psychological value of singing—and surprised even myself by all the benefits that occurred to me. So: instead of the 12 Days of Christmas, here are 12 Reasons for Singing:
1. No surprise, given my passion about the value of diaphragmatic breathing to mental health and optimal performance: The first benefit that occurs to me is that, to sing fully and completely, you need good breath support. It not only produces good sound—this kind of breathing gives your mind and body the positive effects of more oxygen and more complete exhalation of carbon dioxide.
2. Unless you confine yourself to singing in the shower, singing means community and interpersonal connection. Choruses come together to work on a program; they have a sense of purpose that is larger than any one individual. Each different voice type and timbre is needed—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The sense of community is also strengthened through the rhythm of chatting with each other, catching up during break times. Even with a different purpose, congregational choirs share these dynamics as well. When people gather together, even once a year around a piano or in full-fledged Messiah Sing-a-long mode, voices are raised together.
3. When you’re singing, it’s almost impossible to think about other things—the challenges of daily life, for example. You’re focused specifically on what you are doing. Being fully in the present moment allows us welcome distraction from other thoughts, issues, or burdens. Singing brings respite and refocus.
4. Singing offers the opportunity for mastery, for a sense of learning, growing, and accomplishing. Even if it seems painfully gradual at times, practice gets you closer to perfect. You become more aware of what’s involved in skill development, perhaps in an aspect of life different from your everyday professional life.
o One aspect of this developmental knowledge is that of being able to read music. A favorite bumper sticker of mine says it all: If you can read this, thank your music teacher. Sight reading is a wonderful skill, and it improves with practice.
5. Moving more into the cognitive aspects of singing, memorization uses different aspects of our brains. It’s something we’re accustomed to do as children; as adults, we usually find comfort in clutching our scores while staring down at those black splotches on the paper. Memorized music, though, demands that we pay attention to what we’re singing in a different way. In turn, we connect with our audience in a more intimate and direct way—there’s no black folder between the singers and the listeners.
6. Singing is really a very complex process, involving various areas of our brain: There is the linguistic aspect which is different from vocal production which in turn is different from the sense of line. Add different languages and you get yet more synapses firing, more brain elements in full use.
7. There is the emotional aspect as well: What does the music say, how does the singer convey it, what does it evoke in our memories, whether about the music itself or some totally unrelated memory? Does the music bring us to tears? To joy? To laughter? Accessing our feelings through music is especially true at this time of year.
8. Song is a form of communication. A lullaby soothes an infant; it communicates “you matter.”
9. Vocal music elaborates on the experience of meaning and symbolism that we encounter with poetry.
10. Since this is a blog about performing, there is also the performance aspect itself. The process of rehearsal is both critically important and valuable in itself—but is different from performance. Performing isn’t “just” about singing; it’s also about singing to others. How does the singer prepare for that interaction? What are the mental messages and self-judgments that the singer makes, both in preparation and during the performance?
11. For some people, the opportunity to be judged adds a special sparkle to performing. The popularity of various kinds of choral competitions, involving formal judging, was the basis for the TV series, Glee, a program that further popularized competitive choral singing.
12. Finally: this blog has often noted the similarities between different types of performers, especially athletes and performing artists. One of the central differences, though, has to do with audience. I would argue that even though audiences are very much part of the athletic endeavor, an audience isn’t necessary to the performance of the sport itself. With the performing arts, however, in a way performance doesn’t exist without the presence of an audience. Perhaps this blog is relevant to you as an audience member rather than a singer. Your experience and your presence is vital and central to the singer’s life as well. This is the broader sense of community; the interaction between performer and audience creates its own dynamic.
But don’t take just my word for it. Sir Paul McCartney was asked recently if he doesn’t get tired of singing the Beatles standards during performances. His response: “I rediscover [“Let It Be”] for this audience. Seeing the audience reaction freshens it up every time. [It’s as if] I’m looking back at this twenty year old kid, rediscovering the words as I sing them again, finding new meaning, remembering when I wrote it, when we recorded it.”
And don’t “just” take Sir Paul’s word for it, either. I sing with an auditioned chorus that, annually in December, goes to a number of local seniors’ residence to “donate” a mini-concert of holiday music, CarolShare. Our audience is truly appreciative, even if sometimes impaired enough that we may not experience direct feedback. But this year, just after one mini-concert, a resident gave our director a sketch he’d made of the chorus as we were singing. Another time, the recreational coordinator thanked our point person and commented that one of the residents had come up to her and said, “Boy are they good singers.” The point person smiled politely, thinking that while the comment was nice, it wasn’t exactly a profound statement. The Recreational Coordinator said, “I’m not sure you understand. The woman has Alzheimers—she hasn’t spoken for four months.”
Sing and be merry!
As always, if you would like further information or wish to be in contact with me, you can do so @ http://www.theperformingedge