Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Just One More Day
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The Power of Singing

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Singing Builds Community


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Enjoy our posts throughout the concert season

As we come to our final post in this series, we share research on the power of singing to build community.

As Aniruddh D. Patel noted, “Human vocal learning may have started as a way to mark ourselves as being members of a group, maybe before we had full-blown language.” Just as accents today tell us what region or country a speaker comes from, so early songs may have been a strong identifier of community.

Sopranos and Basses of Chorale Bel Canto, October 2015

Today, this need for community is even greater. Research has found that adults have fewer friends than they did in the 1980s, and that more people say they have no one with whom to discuss important life events. Psychologists have discovered that the best way to make friends as an adult is through singing.

Why is singing so powerful? Researchers speculate it’s because everyone does it at the same time, which helps large groups of adults bond quickly. They also say singing involves muscular effort, which triggers the release serotonin and endorphins that can make us happier, more trusting, less anxious, and more willing to cooperate.

Singing is a great icebreaker among large groups of strangers.
Members of Chorale Bel Canto sing with Bulgarian singers
Varna, Bulgaria, summer 2015

A new, small study led by Eiluned Pearce, PhD at Oxford University looked at participants aged 18-83 in adult education classes in the UK. Eighty-four of these adults were enrolled in singing classes and 51 in creative crafts or writing classes. The classes met weekly for a period of seven months. During months one, three and seven, researches asked members to indicate how close they felt to their classmates. All of them felt closer at the study’s end, but participants in the singing classes developed that closeness much more quickly.

Eiluned Pearce

Another study, reported in Scientific American in 2012, examined the possibility of a genetic basis for singing in choirs. In brief, one of the genes they studied, the SLC6A4 gene, which codes for the serotonin transporter. The study recruited 250 singers from good volunteer choirs, those requiring auditions, and 250 volunteers at the hospital where the study was based who had no participation in music. They found the serotonin transmitter more often in the choral singers than in the non-singers.

Serotonin is one of the feel-good neuro transmitters, often called the “happy molecule.” It plays an important role in creating a positive mood and mental well-being, but you don’t have to possess the gene to benefit from singing. Stacy Horn, the author of Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, writes that singing also can release serotonin.”

Stacy Horn

David Byrne

The audience also feels the power of singing. David Byrne in his book, How Music Works writes, “There’s something special about the communal nature of an audience at a live performance, the shared experience with other bodies in a room going through the same thing at the same time, that isn’t analogous to music heard through headphones. . . . It’s a social event, an affirmation of community and it’s also in some small way, the surrender of the isolated individual to the feeling of belonging to a larger tribe.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Just Two More Days
to make your fully tax-deductible donation to Chorale Bel Canto in 2015


The Power of Singing
“an aid to  improve brain function in the elderly”

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to follow this series and to enjoy our posts throughout the concert season

We’ve shared statements on the power of singing to heal and to aid learning. Can singing also improve brain function in the elderly?

Psychologists have long thought that music and language are quite different brain functions, that the left-brain is verbal and logical while the right brain is more involved in art, music, and emotion. As we saw in our last post, Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel is challenging this with his research into overlap and prediction.

“Song combines music and words, and word production is a left hemisphere-biased activity,” says psychologist Patel. “Perhaps doing lots of singing strengthens the brain networks involved in word production and articulation, in addition to the right hemisphere circuits involved in fine control of pitch and melody.”

Patel asks, “Could singing be neuroprotective?” “Could regular singing have a lasting impact on brain function?” If you are musically trained, are you better at predicting what’s coming up next in a sentence?” He posits, “For older adults in crowded environments, where understanding speech is challenging, better prediction abilities might help them anticipate which word is coming next.”

Dr. Gottfried Schlaug at Harvard Medical School has done MRIs of older healthy adults, dividing them into groups of singers and non-singers. The group of singers showed greater connections between areas of the brain than the non-musician group, with the strongest difference on the left side.
Gottfried Schlaug

Studies by Petr Janata and colleagues at UC Davis found that music that was familiar, pleasing, and evocative of autobiographical memories was processed predominantly in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, one of the areas of the brain slower to atrophy with Alzheimer's disease.

“Music provides a way to access regions of the brain and reawaken autobiographical memory when language won’t,” Patel says.

Early results suggest that the strongest effects of music therapy may be on patients’ emotions, particularly their anxiety levels. “The music does not ameliorate the cognitive effects of the dementia,” Patel says, “but it does have a strong impact on a patient’s emotional state, and potentially on quality of life.”

Moreover, neuroscientist Julene Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, is now investigating the possible cognitive, motor, and physical benefits garnered by older adults who begin singing in a choir after the age of 60.

Julene Johnson

"Musical training seems to have a beneficial impact at whatever age you start. It contains all the components of a cognitive training program that sometimes are overlooked, and just as we work out our bodies, we should work out our minds."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Just Nine More Days
to make your fully tax-deductible donation to Chorale Bel Canto in 2015

The Power of Singing
“An aid to learning”

We invite you to subscribe to our blog
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to follow this series and to enjoy our posts throughout the concert season.

Last week we talked about the healing power of singing. Can singing also improve brain function in healthy people?

A major focus of Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel’s research at Tufts University is the music-language relationships in the brain, specifically prediction—the ability to anticipate what comes next. Prediction, long a topic of research in the perception of music, has become a growing focus in language processing.

Leonard Meyer wrote in his 1956 book, Emotion and Meaning in Music, the “fulfilling or thwarting” of expectations is a principal source of music’s emotional power.

Leonard B. Meyer

Similarly, David Huron in his 2006 Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation, shows how common musical devices (syncopation, cadence, meter, and climax) exploit basic psychological mechanisms of expectation.

Steven Mosier, music theory professor at Rio Hondo College says, “Music is teleological,” it moves toward an end goal. Kelsey Menehan, in his article on Dr. Patel, notes, “Researchers have found that successfully anticipating the outcome of a particular musical phrase can trigger positive feelings—even more so if the gratifying outcome is delayed by a slower tempo or another compositional technique.”

The ability to predict what comes next is also central to the way we experience language. “When you are listening to people talk, you don’t just passively soak in information,” Patel says, “you are implicitly predicting the words that people are going to say next. That can help in understanding people in noisy environments or where things are slightly ambiguous.”

To explore the music-language connection, Patel and his team conducted experiments in which subjects listen to pairs of sentences and pairs of melodies, one of each pair leading to strong prediction and the other not. During the experiment, they measured electrical activity in the brain through sensors attached to the subject’s heads.

1) When the two met, one of them held out his _______.
2) When the two met, one of them brought his _______.

The first sentence leads to a strong prediction: most people use the word “hand” to complete it. In the second sentence, people vary in the word they use to complete the thought.

The first melody ends with an implied authentic cadence, and so leads to a strong prediction. Most subjects sing the tonic (D) as a continuation of this melody. The second melody does not lead to a strong prediction.

Patel asks, “If you are musically trained, are you better at predicting what’s coming up next in a sentence?” he asks. He posits, “If children who are learning to read are good predictors of upcoming information in sentences they may be able to more quickly integrate the words they encounter and become more efficient readers.”

Patel formed his OPERA hypothesis: Singing and musical training benefit language skills under the following conditions:

Overlap:      There is anatomical overlap in the brain networks that process an acoustic feature used                                in both music and speech

Precision:    In terms of the precision of processing, music places higher demands on these shared                                  networks than does speech

Emotion:     The musical activities that engage this network elicit strong positive emotion

Repetition:  The musical activities that engage this network are frequently repeated

Attention:    The musical activities that engage this network are associated with focused attention

The OPERA hypothesis accounts for the observed superior subcortical encoding of speech in musically trained individuals, and suggests mechanisms by which musical training might improve linguistic reading abilities.

On another front, Bulgarian psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov demonstrated the effect of sound therapy on learning capacity. He found that when people listened to Baroque music, such as the compositions of Bach and Vivaldi, learning capacity improved significantly.

                                                                                 Georgi Lozanov

Psychologists speculate that music puts students in a heightened emotional state, making them more receptive to information. Further, a number of recent academic studies demonstrate that classical music benefits the sleep patterns, the immune system and stress levels--all helpful when facing those final exams!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Power of Singing

Just Two more weeks
to make your fully tax-deductible donation to Chorale Bel Canto in 2015

The Power of Singing

A session in the 2015 Chorus America Conference and reported in The Voice by Kelsey Menehan first triggered Chorale Bel Canto’s interest in the power of singing. Menehan, a writer, psychotherapist and longtime choral singer based in San Francisco, discusses current research on the brain and singing.

When we asked our singers and patrons what Chorale Bel Canto meant to them, we heard words that confirmed this research in striking ways. “Beautiful singing” is more than just an aesthetic pleasure; it has the power to change our lives in many ways.

From now until the end of the year, we are going to discuss on our blog some of this up-to-the-minute research on singing and the brain that so excites us. In our newsletters, our singers and donors will share their experiences with the power of singing in four areas:

·       The therapeutic power of singing
·       The power of singing to aid learning
·       The power of singing to strengthen brain function in the elderly
·       The power of singing to build community

We invite you to subscribe to our blog
(scroll over to the far right and sign up)
to follow this series and to enjoy our posts throughout the concert season.

In the Chorus America Conference presentation, Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel, professor of Psychology at Tufts University in Boston, described his research on how singing may benefit brain function and explained the relationship he and others are discovering between music and language. They are discovering just how important singing is.

Aniruddh D. Patel

Human song connects us to one another and to other species, but singing plays a unique role in human brain function. Most species are born with their “song” and it changes little over time. Humans are unique in that they can learn songs, perhaps because of the greater size of our temporal lobe, the area of the brain that processes language comprehension and emotional association.

The temporal lobe is one of four major lobes in the cerebral cortex in the brain of mammals. It is involved in the retention of visual memories, language comprehension, and emotional associations.

The temporal lobes are located in the bottom middle part of the cortex on both sides of the brain, right behind the temples. They process auditory information from the ears, enabling us to make sense of different speech sounds and pitches. The right temporal lobe plays a central role in producing or perceiving song, a fact used by physicians in singing as therapy.

Music as a healing tool is deeply rooted in ancient cultures. The ancient Greeks said, “Men have song as a physician for pain.” Apollo, the Greek god of Medicine, playing a golden lyre, was also the god of Music. Native American Shamans used singing in healing rituals. Hindi Ayurvedic medicine uses the voice to balance and re-align the chakras. Certain ancient Israelite prophetic groups used music to achieve ecstasy, or a state of transcendence.

Today, the Sound Healing Network (founded in 2002), says modern medicine increasingly recognizes sound healing as a therapeutic field.

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, director of medical oncology and integrative medicine at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York says, "Sound can actually change out immune system. Our Interluken-1 level, which is an index of our immune system, goes up between 12 1/2 and 15 percent after Gregorian chanting or listening to certain forms of music. And after listening to this music for 20 minutes, our immunoglobin levels in our blood are significantly increased." There is not an organ system in our body that is not affected by sound, music, and vibration," he says. "Sound can help people who are sick, especially cancer patients."

Dr. Patel notes that the right temporal lobe dominance in song is useful in treating specific neurological conditions.

People who have suffered damage in their brain’s left hemisphere after stroke often have problems producing language—a condition called nonfluent aphasia. “Patients may have trouble putting a three-word sentence together and yet if you ask them to sing an old song, they will sing it fluently,” Patel says. Oliver Sacks, in his book Musicophilia, proves that this occurs because specialized areas of song in the brain are not damaged by the stroke.

In the 1970s, doctors devised Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) to help patients with nonfluent aphasia. Patients intoned basic phrases, such as “I love you,” to short, simple melodies with a rhythmic component. “The phrases gradually get longer and the goal is ultimately to get the patient to say what they want to say, not just stock phrases,” Patel says.

Harvard Medical School, in a program conducted by Gottfried Schlaug, is comparing MIT to conventional speech therapy. Thus far, the music therapy shows a 200 percent improvement, whereas speech therapy produces a 160 percent improvement. Brain imaging confirmed what the researchers were observing: “Right hemisphere brain regions involved in singing had taken over for some of the damaged parts in the left hemisphere,” Patel says, “and had been recruited for speech.”

Patel, looking to future research, asks, "If you're a singer and you have a stroke, would you recover faster?"

Research has also found evidence that even patients with severe dementia and Alzheimer's disease retain musical memory. "Patients might not know your name, says Patel, "but if you play a familiar song to them, they might sing along, and know the melody in great detail."

“Music provides a way to access regions of the brain and reawaken autobiographical memory when language won’t,” Patel says. “The music we remember from our youth often reawakens memories of where we were in our lives, who we were with, what we were like, what we were going through.” Studies at UC Davis suggest the reason for this is that an area of the brain slower to atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease is the area that processes music and autobiographical memories.

The strongest effects of music therapy may be on patients’ emotions, particularly their anxiety levels. “The music does not ameliorate the cognitive effects of the dementia,” Patel says, “but it does have a strong impact on a patient’s emotional state, and potentially on quality of life.”

To learn more, read Aniruddh D. Patel’s Music, Language and the Brain (Oxford University Press) or view his series of 18 half-hour lectures in The Great Courses, “Music and the Brain.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#Giving Tuesday and Christmas

Our Next Concerts- this Saturday, Dec. 5
4:00pm and 7:30pm

Please join us!

And stop by the Chorale's booth at the craft boutique between 8:00 and 3:00.

Colleagues in the Arts
Rio Hondo College Music Department presents its winter concert on Dec. 9, with several Rio Hondo student members of CBC singing, two of whom are featured soloists: Johnnie Goolsby and Lupita Vargaz.

And…..Downey Symphony Orchestra presents Strings Stravaganza
January 23, 2016    8:00 PM     Downey Civic Theatre

MOZART:  Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade, K. 525)
HOLST:  St. Paul's Suite
DVORAK:  Serenade for Strings, Op. 22
See for more information.


      Chorale Bel Canto’s

Gala Fundraiser

Saturday, March 5, 2016
Hacienda Golf Club, La Habra Heights

 Linden Waddell presents
 “Hello Again! The Songs of Allan Sherman”

Delectable Dinner with wine pairings
Engaging Entertainment
Wall of Wine

Please mark your calendars and join us on March 5!

Click the image above to benefit CBC while shopping at, today or any day!

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

Now in its fourth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Observed on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

Have a great Tuesday!