Singing Is Good For You!
The idea that singing may have specific health benefits has held currency in some circles for over a century, though few studies have investigated the effects of active participation in music: in current music therapy practice, recorded music and instrumental and vocal improvisation are the standard therapeutic techniques, and possible therapeutic aspects of the use of the singing voice in a performance context in more natural settings, such as performing in amateur choirs, have received little attention. There is, however, a recent development of interest in the potential contributions that the arts can make to health.
In New Zealand, members of a university choral society completed a questionnaire designed to extract information relating to the emotional, social, spiritual and health benefits derived from singing: the responses indicated that the choristers believed singing had positive effects on their lives. The investigation, being conducted in an environment where choir membership may have been restricted to those with a level of expertise, may not be representative of the ability and attitudes of the general population, but a Canadian study explored the effects of choral singing with groups of the homeless and others who live in impoverished circumstances, who had experienced positive life transformations since joining a choir. These effects do not appear to be dependent on ability or training.
A German study has shown that active amateur group singing may lead to significant increases in the production of a protein considered as the first line of defence against respiratory infections, and also leads to positive emotional changes (as measured by psychometric tests). The specific immune response did not seem to depend on the proficiency of the singers, and it is probable that humans are not the only species to exhibit relationships between singing and immune factors: similar effects have been found in starlings and are being investigated in primates such as singing gibbons (no, this is not an April 1 wind-up!).
It is worth quoting the final sentence of the article by the German researchers in full: “Given that every human being is, in principle, capable of developing sufficient vocal skills to participate in a choral society for a lifetime, active group singing may be a risk-free, economic, easily accessible, and yet powerful road to enhanced physiological and psychological well-being.” Hear, hear, we say!!