Research shows singing in harmony is good for the heart and soul – delete your Facebook account and join a choir instead, says Cathleen Mair
Facebook purports to bring the world closer together, giving people “the power to build community”. The recently emerged Cambridge Analytica files not only highlight how little we know about the social media giant’s handling of our personal data, but also how little the company actually seems to care about the people at the heart of its so-called community. Instead, it has handed over users’ data to the highest bidders, fueling divisive political campaigns.
If the revelations have left you scrambling to delete your account, and wondering about how to manage your social life in a post-Facebook world, then joining a local choir might be a fun, and in fact a much healthier, solution.
I was struck by the genuinely positive effects of singing in harmony at the Idler Choir’s spring concert earlier this week. We gathered at a pub in West London to hear what choir members had been working on this past term, under the expert tutelage of choirmaster Tom Williams of St Martin-in-the-Fields. It was a joyous evening that put everyone in an exceptionally good mood.
And it seems the Idler choir is not alone in experiencing these benefits. “Choral singing might be the new exercise,” writes Daniel Pink in his latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. “Singing calms the heart and boosts endorphin levels. It improves lung function. It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication.” As well as improving breathing, posture and muscle tension, singing strengthens your immune system, reduces stress and can alleviate depression, according to research published in scientific journal Music Perception.
More importantly, however, singing in a choir fulfils a fundamental human need that far outweighs the positive effects of singing alone: that of belonging to a group. As Pink points out, “people who sing in a group report far higher well-being than those who sing solo.” Singing in time with others, and contributing to something that goes beyond the individual, brings both personal satisfaction and physiological benefits.
Scientific research backs this up. According to a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, which Pink cites, “singing together fosters social closeness – even in large group contexts where individuals are not known to each other.” After just one rehearsal, singers felt closer than those involved in other adult education classes, like crafts or creative writing, making it an excellent icebreaker.
As David Simmons, artistic director of the Congressional Chorus in Washington D.C., notes, people enjoy singing together because “it makes [them] feel like they’re not alone in the world.” Unlike spending time on Facebook, which can feel like alienating and narcisstic self-promotion more than anything else, singing in a choir actually builds a sense of community.
Genuine social connections play a vital role in our mental and physical wellbeing – some research suggests good relationships can have more health benefits than quitting smoking. So, instead of filling Twitter and Facebook’s coffers by conducting your entire social life online, why not join a community choir? You’ll feel happier, healthier and you might even learn how to sing.
The Idler Choir reconvenes after the Easter holidays on Monday 23 April. Sign up here.