Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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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.”

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