There is something unique about singing – and choral singing in particular – that has the ability to make a deep and lasting impact on the listeners. Add to that the inspirational genre of gospel music and you have something that many feel they can connect with and draw from regardless of their personal beliefs. A music recording makes a beautiful and longlasting gift if you have an idea of the taste in music of the recipient. But what about the gift of singing for health and wellbeing? Encouraging someone who is facing illness to join a choir and even accompanying them can work wonders for their emotional and physiological wellbeing.
In the wake of the recent royal wedding of Prince Harry to Ms Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018, singing is a hot topic at the moment. It would seem that gospel choir conductor Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir with lead vocalist Paul Lee have won the hearts of people all over the world with their outstanding performance of “Stand By Me” the Ben E. King classic which has since been recorded over 400 times. There was something “magical” about this performance that has shot the song to number 1 in the Billboard charts: Hot Gospel Songs and Gospel Digital Song Sales. Not only was this the first time that a gospel choir has sung at a British royal wedding but it is also a first for British gospel artists as none have ever topped the Billboard gospel charts. The Kingdom Choir also have a second track – “Amen / This Little Light of Mine”, an Etta James cover that has the number 2 spot in the Hot Gospel Songs chart and is number 15 in the Gospel Digital Song Sales chart.
I’m privileged to be able to say that I had the honour of performing at the royal wedding as part of The Kingdom Choir. It was an amazing day and to have been there and to have been able to impart something very special for the couple is an experience that we will cherish forever.
There have been many studies and research projects that have set about to find out how singing benefits health and wellbeing. If you have ever sung in a choir you will know first hand that you tend to leave choir rehearsals and events feeling like a different person to the one that arrived. Over and over people have given testimonials of how they have struggled to leave their houses after arriving home after a long day at work but they have pushed through the tiredness barrier to experience a real lift from singing in a group.
1. Improves respiratory health
Dr Ian Morrison of Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent has conducted a study – An evaluation of community singing for people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). The study has shown that after a period of around 5 months of singing, lung function of COPD sufferers had improved. This has mainly been attributed to the breathing exercises associated with singing.
2. Improves blood circulation
The deep breathing employed during singing means that oxygen levels in the blood increase, which in turn improves the circulation of blood around the body. Poor circulation can be more serious than it sounds. When the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen to the cells the body is essentially being starved of vital nutrients that keep them functioning. Poor circulation can lead to loss of mobility. Singing helps to keep the body oxygenated and the blood flowing without restriction.
3. Decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone
A study carried out by Fancourt, D. et all has shown that singing suppresses the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and cortisone and also increases the production of cytokines. Cytokines are molecules that work to communicate to the immune system to fight infection and inflammation in the body. The decrease in cortisol and the increase in the cytokines means that the body is better able to protect itself against cancers.
4. Reduces anxiety and depression
Research led by Professor Stephen Clift from the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, in Canterbury has found that singing releases endorphins – hormones which are natural pain relievers and antidepressants. In addition, the hormone oxytocin is released the presence of which is linked to reduced anxiety and depression.
Anecdotally, I have witnessed the change in those who are affected by low moods and depression when they experience singing in a choir. The shared activity and perhaps the music itself works wonders in lifting those who are feeling low. Interestingly, it is said that people who attend Gospel concerts or South Asian concerts tend to experience greater levels of a sense of “worthwhileness” and happiness.
5. Improves mental alertness
It has already been mentioned that singing helps to oxygenate the blood, which results in improved lung function. The increase of oxygen in the blood stream doesn’t only help with respiratory problems, it also helps to lower blood pressure, helps to regulate the heart and provides oxygen to the brain to boost cognition – the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought and experiences – and mental alertness.
There are research centres in the UK such as the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in Brunel who aim to influence the injection of funding for the provision of singing opportunities as therapy as opposed to hobbies and activities purely for enjoyment.
Other benefits of singing in a choir include the fact that posture improves, you get a physical workout and your social life improves through making connections with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Your unique gift of enabling your loved one to experience the joy of singing for health and wellbeing will reap all kinds of benefits. The great thing about many of the community choirs that exist is that you don’t need to be an experienced singer to join – many choirs are non-audition and don’t require you to be able to read music. It’s a win-win all round!
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