Since this week is Shabbat Shira and in the parasha we read shirat hayam – the song of the (red) sea – I will explore the benefits of singing. There has already been quite a bit of research showing the choral singing can reduce stress, improve breathing, increase blood circulation and has cognitive and social benefits. Most of these are not particularly surprising. Of course it will improve your breathing! And if you are singing with others for an hour each week, of course it will have social benefits.
One thing that makes this research stand out is that it was not done on marginalized populations or on college students but with everyday people who sing in a choir and go to practice every week. So these are people like you and me who are also choral singers. What are the benefits of joining a chorus?
There is a concept called “flow” that was popularized by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in which you lose track of time and you are completely in a state of flow when you are totally absorbed in an activity. Some people call it “being in the zone”. You are completely involved in the activity for its own sake and nothing else matters. This could easily happen when you are singing or at a concert.
One of the reasons that choral singing in particular is good for this is that often in a choir you are singing a new piece which can be a challenge and you are always getting immediate feedback from the conductor. And this is important for getting into a flow state. A challenge but not too difficult a challenge and immediate feedback. Another reason that choral singing can get you into flow is because people more easily achieve flow in social situations.
In a 2017 research project, Julie Lynch and Dr. Charlotte Wilson asked people who sing in a chorus to rate their mindfulness before and after choir rehearsal and before and after listening to a piece of music at home. Both involved music but one was social the other not. Also, one was active, the other passive. One more thing they had in common is that both improved mindfulness. But choir practice improved mindfulness significantly more. After choir practice people had a stronger state of mindfulness and I would argue that this can spill over into the rest of their lives.
Do consider joining a choir after the pandemic or join a virtual choir right now and become more mindful and get a bunch of other benefits.
Lynch, J., & Wilson, C. E. (2018). Exploring the impact of choral singing on mindfulness. Psychology of Music, 46(6), 848-861.
Picture by Foxcroft Academy, protected by Creative Commons 2.0 and downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/foxcroftacademy/14282285804/