Thursday, 27 October 2011

Don’t Wait for the Celestial Choir: SING NOW!

I wrote this blog last spring for the Blue Bridge Festival.  I still believe it! Read ahead to unleash your inner diva.
“Oh WOW! You’re a singer?! That is amazing. I can’t sing…just a terrible voice…can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But, boy, would I sure love to do it.”
I hear words like these at least 4 times a month.  My response is always the same: “Everyone can sing. You should try.”
And I mean it. Everyone CAN sing, some people have done it more and subsequently, are more sure-larynxed than others.  But everyone can and
should sing.

There is a duality of fear and desire when it comes to singing.  The innate desire to sing and make a racket, and the fear of looking like a fool.  Some anthropologists and archeologists believe that singing was one of earliest bonding methods (read about it here).  The short article by Sharon Begley, of The Wall Street Journal (as printed in The Pittsburgh Gazette) discusses evidence that early humans were comfortable bursting into song to attract mates and forging community togetherness.  There is evidence that musical ability evolved separately, much like the opposable thumb.  Language may even be built on the neural foundation of music.  What does this all mean? Get over your ego and start making music. Why fight nature?
Before I reveal some great news, let’s explore some reasons why you may not sing right now:
8. I have asthma/health concerns.
7. I don’t have time/I am too tired.
6. I don’t want to wreck music. I just like to listen.
5. I had a bad past experience singing.
4. I have never sung before
3. I can’t read music.
2. I am tone deaf.
1. People might negatively judge me.
Now, let’s address these concerns:
7 and 8: Asthma, time and exhaustion:
There was a great, short post on the Martha Stewart “Wholeliving” magazine website addressing the health benefits of singing.  Some of them include:
i. Instant Energy
When you sing, you increase your oxygen intake beyond "survival breathing." This increases alertness and circulation. So if you feel too tired after a busy day, singing in a choir just might be the remedy to your fatigue.
ii. Feel-Good Chemicals
“Swedish research found that Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers who sang with a choir produced more oxytocin and saw less intense symptoms.” (Wholeliving)
iii. Immunity Boost
“Several studies have shown that people produce higher levels of immunity-building proteins such as immunoglobulin A when they sing.” (Wholeliving)
iv. Better Breathing
“Singing therapy has been used to improve the lung function of children with asthma.” (Wholeliving)
Read more at 4 Reasons to Sing for Your Health
You may not have the time to NOT be singing.
6. I don’t want to wreck a performance…I’ll just listen:
For most people the act of music-making is about the journey, not the product.  Sure, maybe won’t win American Idol, but learning and participating in a choir is a great outlet to explore and develop your musical skills.
What a sense of achievement you will have when you finally nail a tricky song.  By singing regularly in a choir, your skills will improve; you could learn new language skills (lots of choirs sing in Latin, French, German etc. etc. etc.). Your memory and recall will improve, and you will find a safe performance place to explore your inner diva.
5. I have had a bad past experience:
Maybe the reason you don’t sing is because you once had a teacher that said something like:
“Joe, you sound horrible, you must be tone deaf.”
“Sally, don’t sing, you are wrecking the sound of the choir”
“Tom, don’t quit your day job.”
These cruel words said to a child, or even an adult can inadvertently create a life-long fear of singing.  Singing is a vulnerable act.  Any negative comments can be perceived not as a criticism of a skill, but of you personally.  It can be hard to unpack the emotions created by the carelessness of words.  There are people who will never try singing a lullaby to their baby because their self-perception of their singing voice is negative.
What a tragedy.  If you fall into this category, but there is a niggling feeling that you would like to try finding your voice, choir may be the place to do it.  Community choirs are often social, non-threatening spaces to explore music in a safe way.
3 and 4. Never sung before/ I can’t read music:
No problem.  As mentioned before, our brains are hard-wired to hear and learn music.  It is probably why even non-musicians take such delight in listening to music.  Try singing a melody you hear on the radio.  I bet you can do it without much effort.  In a choir, there are several people singing your part and ample rehearsal time. Slowly but surely, even the rawest beginner will start to pick up the music like a champ.
There are also lots of online resources to help you learn choral music.  Check out Learn Choral Music or Cyberbass, which both contain midi files by part to help drill your music.  Both sites contain a tonne of repertoire.
2. I am tone deaf:
Not likely.  Research indicates that only 1 in 20 people have amusia (tone deafness).  Someone who is truly tone deaf cannot perceive differences in pitch or follow even the simplest tune. This is all explained in a Science Daily article. Here is a free, short test to learn if you are truly tone deaf.  Try it out, even if you think you are tone deaf, you may discover that though you aren’t perfect. your tone perception skills are better than you think.
1. Ego!
Sure, people may judge you if your voice is a bit wobbly or sometimes unpleasant.  But people are jerks.  Everyone has the right to sing.  It is inherent in our natures to do so.  So much of what we do in our lives is tempered by consideration for how we are judged by others.  You will find that in most community choirs, people are warm and accepting.  They were new to the group at one point.  If there is a little voice pushing you to sing…I say try it!
So it seems like we should all be singing. But where to do it? The car? The shower? Yes, but part of the musical process is performance. So here is the remedy:
As alluded to, join a community choir.
  1. social — singing is a community activity
  2. personal — singing creates a sense of achievement
  3. musical — singing together makes for a great sound
  4. well-being — singing is good for your health

So now you must be wondering how you find the perfect choir for you.  I have put some choral resource links below.  Here you will find information about joining choirs in BC and Ontario.  Try a google/bing/your-favourite-search-engine search "Your City" or "Your Region" AND "Join choir".  Good luck, and happy singing.  If you want more information or help contact me.

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