Last week I stood up with 26 other women in a rather lovely local church, drew breath, and began to sing.
This was the inaugural performance of our women’s choir, “Stamford Sings!” and we were letting our family and friends see and hear some of what we get up to at our weekly sessions on Wednesday evenings. Just formed in the Spring of this year, we have learned new songs and increased our vocal confidence whilst meeting new people, forming friendships and challenging sometimes long-held fears and apprehensions.
The physical and psychological benefits of collective music-making are well-documented and include reducing stress, blood-pressure and anxiety; improving cognitive function and social integration (and addressing problems associated with loneliness and isolation). Stumbling upon a recent article, I also discovered that singing activates the vagus nerve, (the longest nerve in the autonomous system) which has the effect of applying the brakes to our stress response. Group singing, it seems, intensifies that effect on the individual.
Of course, performing can itself be stressful and, depending on our character and personality, takes us out of our comfort zone to a greater or lesser degree. Whilst it’s scary, it’s only by edging out of our comfort zone that it expands, and enables us to discover, both individually and collectively, resources we didn’t know we had. This experience of risk – of shared vulnerability – can create an environment where we are less defensive, more open and empathic, and where strong bonds can forge.
The heritage of group singing is found in mining and seafaring communities, and of course in slavery, where stress, uncertainty, oppression, and all too often tragedy, were woven deep into the collective conscious. Where words and music could give a shared expression to sorrow, resilience, gratitude, joy, and hope.
Our choir’s renditions of songs ranging from Gospel to Disney, via Manilow, aren’t tonally perfect or lyrically spotless, but they are a wonderful vehicle for a group of women to come together once a week and forget about the workplace targets to be met, the school lunches to be packed, the family squabbles to be resolved and the relationships to be tended. For that short interlude in our busy lives, we can put aside our sundry preoccupations and lose ourselves in potent words, and a banging good tune!