Friday, 24 June 2011

Singing is Good for You - Fact!!

This week I went to Nordoff Robbins in Gospel Oak to a Research Seminar about singing and well-being. Speaking at the seminar was Dr Stephen Clift and his Phd student Rita Munro from the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Helath based at Canterbury Christchurch University.

Stephen Clift was discussing his 'network' prject, which created choirs for people with mental health NHS service users, workers and supporters. These choirs showed a marked improvement in the health of the participants, as well as movement from being clinically diagnosed, to less severe forms of their conditions. The project, in partnership with NHS Kent, started in 2007 and has been thriving ever since.

The original group that was set up, 'The Mustard Seed Singers' visited mental health care homes and wards to perform and share their experiences, as well as give invaluable support to potential new singing groups.

Rita Munro, was very interesting. She has no background in music at all, claiming to even find spontaneous acts of singing very difficult, but was a student in behavioural science and psychology and decided to look at the effects of singing on the participants from a purely scientific viewpoint e.g. saliva swabs, hormonal change etc. Her talk was incredibly interesting, particulrly in hearing about her difficulty in getting the samples from the participants, and her movement in understanding of how creative endeavour affects people. Looking at the five points of well-being, outlined by the government recently, these include;

Connect - with people around you.
Be Active - walk, run, cycle, dance, sing......
Take Notice - savour the moment
Keep Learning - makes you more confident and can be fun
Give - do something nice for a friend or a stranger

The singing sessions that took part engaged in all fo these activites, as well as show scientific evidence of improved well-being as a result of their singing.

At the moment I am looking into reader and non-reader choirs, looking at the attributes of 'Kinesensic learning', a phrase coined by Arthur Lessac, and whether the health and well-being benefits are different depending on the type of singer you are. I'll keep you updated.

For more info abotu Sindey De Haan please see -

The ONLY Choir That Rocks......................?

(Yes yes, I haven't written a blog in ages, apologies and all that..............)

Last week saw a documentary called 'The Choir that Rocks' on ITV's, chronicling the last 5 months of a choir phenomoena that is moving across the nation, 'Rock Choir'. This first episode saw Caroline Redman Lusher discussing how from humble beginnings starting as a budding popstar to running a local choir in Farnham Surrey, she decided built up a singing empire where evryone wears the same t-shirts, sings the same songs and choir leaders aren't paid if they're late. Obviously all underscored with inspirational ballads and stabbed throughout with colossal threatening events e.g. will the Yorkshire choir get more than 9 members, will Caroline sign and pay to hire Wembley and will there be a chance that Caroline won't get to sing on one of the following episodes?

I'll be honest, as someone who's run choirs for a long time, there's a lot I like about Rock Choir. The participants were obviously getting a lot from the experience, and who am I to take that away from them.

But I have a great sense of unease about it, and am slowly finding myself disliking the brand more and more. I can't explain to you how much I detest people wearing matching t-shirts, or singing to backing tracks or being rallied along by American corporate style enthusiasm (You will enjoy this, and if you don't there's something wrong with YOU).

This franchise model has already proven successful financially. 'Stagecoach', the weekend Drama group for young people has gone from strength. But why do they all have to be this 'brand'?? And can the quality of the work ever be good if it's all standardised?

I have many issues with what I saw in the Rock Choir documentary, the biggest of which being an assumption that if you were looking for a choir there was black or white - Rock Choir or the Choral Society of Wherever which sing boring classical repertoire and everyone's 100 and you have to read music (I know, I a choir. How bizarre).

Well my first response is there are thriving choral societies who have been established and successful for many years giving pleasure and interest to all involved. They may not wear matching t-shirts, or sing songs that Caroline RL likes, but I don't think they particularly care.

Secondly, if this is black and white, what about the grey? What about the hunders or thousands of local community choirs who sing up to date repertoire, don't sight read, don't audition. These choirs have been running for many years bringing a singing culture to many places that didn't have one or couldn't afford one. However, for the sake of this documentary have been conveniently forgotten so Caroline can look like a one woman crusade in the fight for creative expression for the masses. Why can't we be filling Wembley with ALL types of choir, celebrating their own unique style and embracing their difference. Why call something 'inclusive', when you're creating events which are 'exclusive'?

We're beginning to create the Tesco's of Creativity, companies who have an entirely different view of how we should express ourselves, what we should want to buy and how we should buy it. As always the 'local shops' suffer. But remember, although some of the local shops vegetables may be a little oddly shaped, they always taste better........