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Singing improves your mood and fosters a creative, communal spirit, even if you're bad at it.
I’d describe myself as a not particularly gifted but enthusiastic singer. (You can blame the last bit on the 1/4 Welsh in me).
I was never in a choir as a child but remember singing being a big part of my life growing up. With my sister singing along to Disney and Hollywood musicals, at school assembly, round camp fires and then at rugby clubs various. But more recently, much less so and mores the pity; singing has become a solo sport, in the shower, the car or when alcohol is involved.
Last weekend a friend gathered a load of us (slightly begrudgingly) round the piano on a Sunday morning and conducted us through Oasis’ Wonderwall and Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey…and we all loved it. It brushed off the cobwebs, put a smile on everybody’s faces and created a shared experience that felt very special.
Later he told me he was giving up his job as a music teacher to focus on his passion for community choirs. As he was talking and explaining all the benefits of community singing I realised he was inadvertently answering many of the briefs we are getting from clients at the moment.
‘Jim, can you help with my team work more collaboratively?': ‘Can you create a team-building event?’: ‘My business needs re-energising’: ‘How can I get my people aligned behind a shared purpose?’: ‘Help me foster a creative culture’…All these briefs and more would benefit, in part, from some communal singing.
The first hurdle is to get past the cynicism, the inhibitions, the uncool image of ‘choirs'… but once you are over this initial fear, the bounty that communal singing can bring to your business will come rolling in.
The fact is loads of us Brits are already flocking to choirs in our thousands. There are more than 3,000 groups listed on the British Choirs on the Net website, and the body that runs my choir, Rock Choir, has over 16,000 members in 250 communities nationwide.
Gareth Malone, the preppy choirmaster credited with reigniting our interest in choral singing through his BBC Two series, The Choir, helped a new generation of singers realise the benefits of making music; his Military Wives Choir had a Number One hit in December 2011 and his NHS choir beating Bieber to the Christmas number one slot in 2015.
The benefits of singing regularly seem to be cumulative;
1 I’ve Got The Power - SNAP
Creativity is dependent on the energy you surround it with. It feeds off people with bounce, positivity and drive. The more awake and aware you are has a direct impact on your creative output. Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body.
This consequently helps you live longer, according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study. The research showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state.
2. Express Yourself - Madonna
Our caveman brains have a built in negativity bias so we respond quickly to danger or change. Since there are few sabre toothed tigers around in our modern technology-driven landscape, often our negativity bias takes over unnecessarily.
Singing helps to break down ambitions, relieve stress and create a more open and relaxed mindset, allowing us to more freely express ourselves.
Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Regular singers have been found to have lower levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress and a more open mind.
3. Come Together - The Beatles
Singing has been used for years to help bring communities together and unite them under a shared purpose. Religion, the army, sports clubs, national anthems, community choirs…why not businesses? A successful creative culture is always a collaborative and connected one.
Researcher Dr Bjorn Vickhoff at the University of Gothenburg. Sweden explains “Song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out occurs on the song phrases and inhaling takes place between these. It gives you pretty much the same effect as yogic breathing.”
Dr Vickhoff found that choristers’ heart-beats synchronise when they sing together, bringing a health-boosting calming effect that bonds and unites people.
Some research suggests that group singing makes individuals more likely to self sacrifice for the greater communal good. These synchronised activities can weaken physiological borders, built trust between the self and the group; resulting in a sort of hive mind.
A very recent study even attempts to make the case that “music evolved as a tool of social living,” and that the pleasure that comes from singing together is our evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively, instead of hiding alone, every cave-dweller for him or herself.
From our extensive work at Upping Your Elvis in unlocking businesses’ creative potential the key requirements to create a buzzing creative culture are:
Communal singing does all of this and more…and it turns out you don’t even have to be a good singer to reap the rewards. According to one 2013 study, group singing “can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.”
So there is hope for us all. Even if you’re a terrible singer and if its just for a one off event, it doesn’t matter. Get together, have a singsong and you’ll feel more alive, more creative and more connected to yourself and those around you.
In the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “the only thing better than singing – is more singing”.
Jim Lusty is a partner at Upping Your Elvis; specialists in Creative Leadership.
The Hills Are Alive…Why Singing Is The Key That Unlocks A Creative Culture