For more than twenty years I have been very happily a part of the choir at University Synagogue, Irvine. What started with a mighty quartet so many years ago, has grown into a glorious group of twenty-plus singers, who devote time and energy to learn the music and sing at services and then some. But since attending rabbinic school, I have had to put aside singing regularly in the choir, along with many other activities. And I miss it. I am no great singer, but in a choir you don’t have to be a soloist—just have a nice voice, carry a tune and sort of read music. And you know what? It’s good for you too!
According to an article in Time magazine August 16, 2013, written by Stacey Horn—“Singing Changes Your Brain,” group singing has been “scientifically proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety and elevate endorphins.”
It seems that when you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. I can attest to the fact that, for those who have sung in a group, it is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. “It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, is shared with a roomful of people and comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony,” writes Horn.
She goes on to cite a study that showed that the benefits of singing regularly seem to be cumulative. In one study, singers were found to have lower levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress. “A very preliminary investigation suggesting that our heart rates may sync up during group singing could also explain why singing together sometimes feels like a guided group meditation,” writes Horn. It seems that there have been multiple studies that have found that singing “relieves anxiety and contributes to quality of life.” Dr. Julene K. Johnson, a researcher who has focused on older singers, recently began a five-year study to examine group singing as an affordable method to improve the health and well-being of older adults.
Many studies have shown that just listening to music can enhance the emotional and cognitive functioning of patients affected by various neurological conditions (e.g., Chan, Chan, Mok, Kwan, & Tse, 2009; Forsblom, Laitinen, Sarkamo, & Tervaniemi, 2009). But, unlike music listening, “active music-making places additional demands on the nervous system, leading to a strong coupling of perception and action; processes that are mediated by sensory, motor and multimodal integrative regions distributed throughout the brain.”
As the moresingingplease.com website touts: Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out. It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to JLife since 2004.