Choral societies come in all shapes and sizes

What motivates us to join a choir? – The love of singing, social interaction, tours and travel, competitions, an education, the post rehearsal beers in the pub, affiliation to a school/club/sport/church, perhaps the search for stardom or at least experiencing that ‘buzz’ feeling at the end of the performance? All can play a part.

I suspect for many of us the notion of any health benefits would be furthest from our minds when signing up. Certainly, it was for me. So why did I join?

I have always enjoyed singing – who doesn’t? But for many of us the structure of choral singing ends as we leave the school gates behind. Do not despair, there are a surprising number of opportunities to join a vast array of choral societies to meet your needs and abilities. Whilst I truly love to sing, I am not a great singer, as my Dad often teased  “Don’t give up your day job!”

My foray into the world of choral singing re-began when my son attended prep school. My neighbour, also a prep parent, encouraged me to join and so I did. The choral society, numbering over 100, consists of parents of the boys, past parents, staff members and friends of the school i.e. it is warm and welcoming and, with that last category, it remains open for anyone to join. The big motivator for me was one of the principal reasons why the choral society existed: to support the boys’ choir and thus enable the school to hold large scale musical performances enabling the boys to have such amazing experiences at a young age. We would come together, after weeks of rehearsing separately, for rehearsals before the final performance and to hear voices from age 8 to 13, sometimes as young as age 5, blending in with our pieces was indeed magical.

The benefits to me were manifold. I, like many of my generation, had benefited immensely from a grammar school education in 1970s Britain. To ‘get on’ particularly as a girl, meant focusing on the sciences and maths. This was rightly or wrongly drummed into us at an early age (the mantra served me very well incidentally) and therefore, due to the structure of subject choices, it meant that Art, History, Latin and Music were consigned to the bin before reaching my 14th birthday.  So not only do I now enjoy the singing but, with a wide ranging repertoire, I am exposed to the great composers – Rossini, Haydn, Verdi, Jenkins, Mozart, Faure, Parry, Bach et al, often for the first time and learn such a lot – a welcome lifelong learning boost!  I had always enjoyed going to concerts and opera throughout my life but, having sung in a choir, it does most definitely accentuate the experience.

My son’s move to senior school continued this pleasure, although this was a far more serious choral society with much debate around each and every note and chord from not only the Director of Music but the choir members! The concerts were no grander but with the boys being older (13 to 18), a different musical experience and larger orchestra. I was not invited to remain in the choir when my son left senior school – probably the only departing parent not to have been afforded such an invitation! Therefore, I think if embarking on joining a choir, which I would whole heartedly encourage and recommend, it is important to consider your talents (or lack thereof) as you want to feel loved and involved. Fortunately for me, I remain and am welcomed to this day as a member of the prep school choral society.

To have had the opportunity to sing at some of London’s great venues is a wonderful experience; namely The London Palladium, Westminster Abbey, The Barbican, Southwark Cathedral, to name a few, brought its own joys, save the pain experienced when standing in stiletto heels for 90 minutes, which one never learns from and is repeated annually.

Choirs can be of different sizes and gender, perform in diverse venues, and can often be associated with national pastimes, as is so often the case when you think of countries like Sweden and Wales.

Local Male Voice choir singing at Hay on Wye Christmas fair
Treorchy Male Choir singing in front of 74,500 at the opening of the Wales v France rugby game February, 2020
Local choir singing at Gottenburg, Sweden Christmas festivities
Sing, then. Sing, indeed, with shoulders back, and head up so that song might go to the roof and beyond to the sky. Mass on mass of tone, with a hard edge, and rich with quality, every single note a carpet of colour woven from basso profundo, and basso, and baritone, and alto, and tenor, and soprano, and also mezzo, and contralto, singing and singing, until life and all things living are become a song.
Richard Llewellyn, How Green was my Valley

But what of the benefits I am enjoying, but had no knowledge of initially? Singing helps reduce blood pressure and stress. The uplifting nature of the experience radiates a sense of calm and well-being, which in turns boosts mental health. The social connectivity is also a great boost to mental health. I read with great interest the recent announcement by the UK Government that a grant was being made available to the English National Opera (ENO) partnering with Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust to devise an integrated six week pilot programme of singing, breathing and well-being, aimed at supporting and enhancing the recovery of COVID-19 survivors. Singing boosts the memory function and expands cognitive reserve which can in turn helps reduce the risks (but never eliminate) the advent of Dementia. What is abundantly clear is that singing for those with dementia brings many benefits.

So as can be seen singing, whilst in of itself is so rewarding, is yet another example of engaging in a hobby where health benefits abound without having to put one toe into a gym or stare at a lettuce leaf. Bravo!