By Dr Liji Thomas, MD
Singing in a choir is a group activity which has been among the many group interventions studied for their positive effects on people under stress. These groups could include cancer patients, those who provide care for cancer-affected people, and those who have lost a loved one to cancer recently.
Choral singing may contribute more to the overall well-being of individuals, as compared to individual or group leisure activities, as for instance, listening to music alone or in a group, or swimming.
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How Choral Singing Acts upon Health?
The components of well-being that come from singing in a choir include:
Joint action: Moving in unconscious synchrony with others is a vital part of choir singing, which requires that individuals coordinate their vocal and breathing actions as a group.
This has been linked to increased feelings of wellbeing. Some explanations of this are the increased level of cooperation that joint action evokes, and the breaking down of boundaries between self and others which reduces an egocentric approach to life.
Meaningful community interaction: A group such as a choir is composed of people with similar and shared goals, and belonging to it is therefore more meaningful to the singers. This satisfies the basic human need to be related to others in a fulfilling and meaningful way.
In the case of adults who had severe disability or chronic mental illness, participation in groups was limited since they could not be part of occupational or social groups for various reasons.
This poverty of meaningful association was found to be alleviated by choral singing. Singing in a choir was found to satisfy these individuals on three levels: personal impact, social connectedness, and improved functioning.
This could also be seen as the creation of a new and significant social identity for the individual, which led to feelings of being included in society as a valued and contributing member of it.
Reciprocal interactions with other choir members and with the audience led to improved interactions with the community as well as with oneself.
The Beneficial Effects of Choir Singing
The positive outcomes of singing in a choir may be summarized as follows:
Choir members showed some or all of the following physical benefits during or after choir practice included:
- reductions in the level of the hormone cortisol which is associated with stress, leading to greater relaxation
- increased levels of oxytocin which leads to feelings of satisfaction and emotional bonding
- better breathing leading to physical well-being
- improved posture
- pain relief and management
- increases in the level of certain cytokines which were linked to better immune function
Emotional changes related to choir practice included:
- improvements in mood and well-being
- better concentration
- improved ability to bring about ordered thought processes
- increased resilience and strength of mind
Several studies have reported improvement in personal psychological state with choral singing, such as:
- spiritual satisfaction or finding a relationship to spiritual power
- positive feelings
- emotional regulation, which meant a better outlet for tension and the achievement of relaxation
- a change in self-perception as one capable of doing meaningful things
- a feeling of empowerment, and increased or more effective self-expression through the activity as a group
- improved self-acceptance
- increased autonomy in the sense of doing something just for themselves, and by their own choice
- experiencing feelings of self-efficacy, or recognizing that they could motivate themselves, commit to a group activity and achieve what they set out to do
- enhanced motivation and planning for the future
The benefits of choral singing extended into better social relationships, including:
- better employment capabilities
- higher degree of connectedness
- a sense of being part of the choir
- relating to others in a safe environment and in a progressive fashion: first to other choir members, as well as to the audience, and with the local community at large, with improved social functioning
- peer support and friendships
Individuals who were involved in choir singing also reported that they regained:
- the ability to function according to a set routine and to experience structure in their lives,
- ability to be employed
- improvement in health
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: Jul 26, 2016