Diving Deeper - The Power of Song by Kitty Skeen Part 1 of 2
What if I told you, there was one activity you can do that can be done by anyone, of any age, with no experience or qualifications.
It can be done at work, at celebrations and funerals, at church, indoors or outdoors, and is legal and inexpensive. This one activity can give you the shivers, move you to tears, make you smile, stop you in your tracks. It is something you can do alone, but much better in a group, and can have social, mental and health benefits. Would you believe me? I am, of course, talking about music, but more specifically about singing and the power of song.
As Mini Maestros teachers, we are truly lucky to see the power of music every day. Each teacher has stories of children connecting to and being moved by song; babies roaming around the room suddenly sitting still and entranced as soon as they hear the ‘Welcome Song’; children walking for the first time to connect with a teacher singing a soft sweet tune about a bluebird; busy boys whose happiest class moment is when they can strum the teacher’s ukulele and sing the 'Goodbye Song' to them. But, it isn’t just children who are affected by music. In some ways it is more important for us, as adults to make sure we also find a way to allow music to affect our lives.
In recent months there have been two standout videos posted on social media that show just how powerful song can be, especially when people are singing together. One shows a busy commuter train (in Perth, Australia) where an organised group begin singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ to simple ukulele accompaniment. They hand around lyrics to the travellers and encourage participation. A number of people even sing harmonies. Not everyone is shown singing, but every single person has a smile on their face. The other video is from a Green Day concert in Hyde Park, London. While waiting for the band to come onto stage, the entire audience of sixty-five thousand people begin to sing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen. The crowd swells together into this magnificent rendition, nearly six minutes of glorious group singing. Apparently, the band actually waited for the audience to finish before coming onto stage. Each video garnered millions of views on YouTube, with hundreds of comments, many on the theme of ‘Wow, wish I had been there’, ‘This gave me goose bumps’, ‘Best experience of my life’ and, my favourite, ‘This is how our world should be every day’.
I have always sung in a choir. Once a week I meet up with a group of people from all different backgrounds, ages and musical skill levels and we sing. I do it for enjoyment of music, but also because I know how important singing is for my mind and body. Studies have shown that when you sing your body releases hormones such as endorphins, which are associated with pleasure, and oxytocin which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin can also enhance trust and bonding, and group singing can lessen feelings of depression, isolation, and loneliness. Many people join choirs for social connection, and for people who aren’t connected in other ways (for instance, the elderly, unemployed, or non-working parents of young children) connecting through music can be both powerful and vital. Singing in a group has given me incredible opportunities like performing at Carnegie Hall, New York City and recently accompanying ‘The Voice’ himself, John Farnham, in a mega group of over two thousand amateur choral singers. More importantly though, singing in a choir has given me a chance to explore myself musically, meet great people and form some of the most important friendships of my life. It has also given my children a really valid reason for them to be proud of me, something tangible that I do outside of the house and separate from them that gives me individuality and credibility.
The power of song is weaving its way into science and medicine too. Music teachers and therapists have known for decades that music can have a profound effect on children’s ability to function and learn. At the other end of the scale, researchers have linked musical memory to positive outcomes for dementia patients and those suffering from other degenerative diseases. In 2016 ABC’s science program Catalyst looked at how a ‘playlist of your life’ is being used to re-awaken the brains of people with advanced dementia. Music players are loaded with a patient’s favourite songs and given to them. In one example, a patient, who was in the Navy and now has no memory of this, listens to ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. He sings along and tells of singing the alternate (cheeky) words to the song when he was in the Navy. One Parkinson’s sufferer with impaired mobility is shown walking stiffly, shuffling and freezing, a gait that he has no control over. When dance music is played he takes the hands of his helper and waltzes. Music can tap into the brain in a way no other stimulus can (actually smells can do this for me sometimes, but that’s an article I’ll write for ‘Delicious’ not ‘Heart.Beat.Newsletter’…).
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