Choir + People = Community & Well-being
(5 min read)

Alan Forsyth Silcock

Alan Forsyth Silcock

If you were one of over ten million folks to click on Pop Choir Australia on Tik Tok, you might have sought out the website www.popchoir.com.au and discovered director, Sharon Stokes, who declared: 'It is a great way to meet friends and be part of a thriving community. Oh, did we forget to mention that singing is proven to be great for your health?'

Photo courtesy of Pop Choir website
Photo courtesy of Pop Choir website.

Sharon is accurate on all counts; choirs do improve people's connection with community, and they enhance our well-being. It is proven.

As an avid choir participant and supporter, I will share my own story about the rich experience and unquestionable benefit of being part of a choir. I will also share some of the research that validates the value of choirs and singing in people's lives and experiences.

Living as an Australian in Scotland for about six years, it took me some time to adjust, and similarly, for the Scots to adjust to me. I had a few failed attempts with voluntary organisations where I felt unwelcome, but this all changed when I happened upon Rock Choir, Edinburgh.

Rock Choir is a huge network of choirs across the UK, with outlets in all the major towns. In my back yard, for example, there were four choirs stretching between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Pleased that I did not have to audition in any formal way, I arrived at the Surgeons Hall Theatre in Edinburgh and was invited to join in as best I could. I did so, and left the theatre on a high. I was moved by the power of a collective voice and my own confidence in belting out the lyrics to Don't Leave Me This Way by the Communards. I floated home across the Meadows, already feeling the positive impact of this experience on my well-being.

Two years later, I was fully subscribed and warmly embraced by Rock Choir. A special group of six emerged and took me on board, all good mates who had serendipitously formed a group within the larger choir. I sang my way around Paris with them, performing at Euro Disney and The Eiffel Tower. We even belted out Crowded House numbers in perfect harmony along la Seine. It was impromptu and delightful.

I performed at major theatres in Glasgow, nightly at the Edinburgh Festival, and in several impressive churches in Edinburgh, including Greyfriars... all shared with a small and caring group of folks, my new Scottish community.

I was grateful to be welcomed into the hearts and souls of these good people, and were it not for the Rock Choir, I would still be harbouring resentment at my earlier treatment. I was grateful for the wider Rock Choir community, and the several support groups within that community. The choir delivered; the choir supported.

This support was again evident not long before I returned to Australia, when the Rock Choir agreed to be involved in a gig for my charity, The Men of Leith Men's Shed. It was the first major fund-raising event for the Men's Shed, and Rock Choir performed beautifully in an equally beautiful church in Leith. Many of those present that evening were moved by the performances, again contributing to community, health and well-being.

Moving on to evidence, McDonald, Druetz & Mitchell in Music Health & Wellbeing identify several psychological impacts of music. According to them, music is:

  • Easy to access
  • Emotional
  • Engaging
  • Distracting
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Communicative.

Music affects our behaviour and our identity. These two areas are a comprehensive part of our way of being, and the many studies referred to in Music Health & Wellbeing demonstrate the considerable impact music has on health and well-being.

Similarly, Clift & Hancox in their 2002 research studied members of the University College Choir. Results indicated that singing enhanced health and well-being, as well as physical, emotional, social, and spiritual domains.

Additionally, the Sidney de Haan Research Centre in Australia, Germany and the UK found singing contributed significantly to improved physical emotional and social health and well-being in healthy, regular choir singers (Clift & Hancox, 2010).

There are an increasing number of recent studies and many more underway to validate and extend these findings.

In the meantime, back to my experience.

Upon returning to Australia, I was looking for a new choir to join when I came across videos on YouTube of Pop Choir and Pub Choir. Both were appealing, but we were in a time of deep uncertainty... the pandemic. I know it was never Pop Choir's intention to run sessions via Zoom, yet they did what they could to keep the choir going, and many craved the participation.

When life returned to some semblance of normality, Pop Choir started to thrive. One key dimension, not mentioned in the research I have seen, is that of performance. Director of Pop Choir, Sharon Stokes, in Melbourne, Australia, went out of her way to find opportunities for the choir to perform regularly in a variety of different venues and settings. Similarly, performance opportunities were available in the UK for Rock Choir.

A shared sense of expectation and nervousness was often present prior to a performances here and in the UK, but it is that shared sense of stepping beyond the known and embracing the unknown together that enhances the experience of performing in a choir.

As we marched in a line across the stage, the eight men from Rock Choir looked resplendent, if slightly anxious yet excited to perform to a full house in Glasgow. We sang on stage together for the first time and powerfully delivered Hold Back the River by James Bay. It was a great performance, and the audience agreed, delivering the second standing ovation I have experienced in my life.

Similarly, in St Kilda, Melbourne, at the iconic Palais Theatre, over 300 of us in the Pop Choir were on stage with a full band and backing singers, ready to delight the audience.

It is rare in life to have such opportunities as these, but it is these chances to step up and shine that inspire a sense of camaraderie and contribute so deeply to well-being and meaning.

I am not proposing that you cannot achieve such feelings elsewhere; I am sure it is possible. But, I am proposing that if you would like to contribute to your sense of community and friendship and your capacity to perform and enhance your well-being, then joining a choir is a wonderful option.

It is evident from my earlier story of the Rock Choir partnering with The Men of Leith Men's Shed in Scotland that another benefit of singing in a choir is the opportunity to perform and help charitible organisations raise funds, adding to a sense of giving and meaning.

Pop Choir has actively supported charities such as Connors's Run and the Lighthouse Foundation. The single, Windows with Smiles, written by fellow Pop Choir leader, Darryl Moulton, and sung by the choir, is such a powerful indication of this glue between choir and community. All proceeds from the sale of this record and donations at the Palais performance go direct to the Lighthouse Foundation.

In February 2024, the Pop Choir performed at Carmen's Fun Run to raise funds for Breast Cancer Network Australia.

Do you want to be moved by a performance of the Pop Choir? Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3A2UM4-tpU and hear the choir sing Windows with Smiles.

If you are seeking to improve your voice, connect with your community, or expand your sense of well-being, a simple Google request will reveal a choir near you.

References

MacDonald, Raymond, Gunter Kreutz, and Laura Mitchell (eds), Music, Health, and Wellbeing (Oxford, 2012; online edn, Oxford Academic, 24 May 2012 https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586974.001.0001).

Clift, Stephen & Hancox, G. (2002). The perceived benefits of singing. The journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. 121. 248-56. 10.1177/146642400112100409.

Clift, Stephen and Grenville Hancox. The significance of choral singing for sustaining psychological wellbeing: findings from a survey of choristers in England, Australia and Germany. (2010) https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-significance-of-choral-singing-for-sustaining-a-Clift-Hancox/3c853852843a28267643b41b331a07f957852dfa


Alan Forsyth Silcock is a facilitator, successful coach, and author. He has received excellent results for leading companies worldwide, as well as for community groups, charities, and people of all ages. Visit Alan's website at https://www.followingforsyth.com/ for more information.


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