A wealth of literature has been produced recently about the power of singing to improve health and wellbeing. Having read much of the evidence-based academic research on the release of beta endorphins, improvement in breathing and posture, and the extension of social networks – but not having seen it in action, this complete unable-to-hold-a-tune non-singer went to sit in on a rehearsal of the Sound Waves Community Choir and ask some of their members what singing in a large group did for them.

The joy of singing
PICTURE: Christopher Platts

Roz Ziebell, a long-term member of the choir, said: “We love to sing at Sound Waves Community Choir and in our efforts to produce a wonderful sound with our voices, we also aim to improve our health – physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.” 

Roz explained that musical director, Debbie Warren, always starts their sessions with some simple relaxation exercises to get rid of tension and to aid breathing. When I went to observe the choir in action, I was press-ganged into exercising with them. As predicted, we did exercises to control our diaphragms, to increase our lung capacity, to relax our facial muscles and warm up our voices. Also as predicted, it was fun– the group are amazingly friendly, welcoming and encouraging: “if you can sing in the shower, you can sing with us.”

I felt that they had either underestimated the dreadfulness of my Jeremy Hardy school of singing, or overestimated their ability to cover up mistakes but Debbie gave me the sheet music for ‘The Gypsy Song’ from Carmen and my photographer companion and I tucked ourselves in behind the altos. I have no idea if I’m a soprano, alto or even a bass and anyway, I thought I would probably mime – but before we knew what was happening, we were ‘tra la la la’ing along with the rest. It was a great feeling.

Debbie leads the choir
PICTURE: Christopher Platts

During the tea break I spoke to many of the singers – all of whom were keen to tell me about the benefits they had found in singing with Sound Waves. Interestingly, several had joined after the death of a partner – joining a choir is something that is easy to do on your own, no-one feels self-conscious arriving alone and the inclusiveness is almost tangible. Others told me how uplifting and energizing it is. ‘Joyful’ and ‘joyous’ were words repeated again and again. Roz elaborated: “Often on a cold winter evening I feel that I’d rather stay at home in the warm, but once I start singing I seem to find reserves of energy that I didn’t know I had. At the end of the session I feel energised and invigorated.”

Another singer told me how much her breathing had improved. Having suffered from asthma since childhood, her airways were now much clearer due to singing – a measurable improvement on a peak flow meter – how’s that for scientific evidence? 

After the break it was back to work with Verdi’s ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’ which, like ‘The Gypsy Song’, was being rehearsed for the forthcoming Night at the Opera performance. This time the photographer and I needed no encouragement: we droned along tunelessly but happily, torturing one of the finest tunes ever.

The public performances usually come at the end of a term of singing with a performance to friends and family. Sound Waves members tell me it not only boosts the self-confidence of the choir to see the pleasure that their singing gives but also raises money for good causes, so boosting self-esteem. They have given nearly £18,000 to local charities in the past ten years. 

So there we have it: singing in a choir offers companionship, invigoration, boosted self-confidence, boosted self-esteem, improved asthma and above all, joy. And… even got me singing! 

And finally, why not try it yourself? They are currently rehearsing for their next performance, “A Night at the Opera”, to be held at St Mary in the Castle on Sunday 19th April at 7:00pm, a programme of some of the best-loved arias and choruses from opera and operetta, with two professional soloists and dancers from Hastings Stage Studio and admission is free. 

Choir sessions are held on a Tuesday evening, 7:30 – 9:30pm, in the Salvation Army Hall, St. Andrews Square in Hastings. See www.soundwaveschoir.org.uk New members are always welcome.  Although this may have changed in light of the current social distancing situation.

For ideas of how to Sing At Home click here

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