In the United States, choral singing is the most popular of all arts-related participatory activities. Across the country, 28.5 million people regularly sing in one of 250,000 chorus groups. It’s a group activity that seems to stand the test of time better than others, and there may be a very good reason why: Singing has some effects that other participatory activities don’t.
- Singing improves your mood. It releases the same feel-good brain chemicals as sex and chocolate!
- Singing strengthens the immune system, according to research by scientists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, published in the latest edition of the US Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
- A study published in Australia in 2008 revealed that on average, choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the general public — even when the actual problems faced by those singers were more substantial than those faced by the general public.
- A 1998 study found that after nursing-home residents took part in a singing program for a month, there were significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels.
- Another study surveying more than 600 British choral singers found that singing plays a central role in their psychological health. Singing can have some of the same effects as exercise, like the release of endorphins, which give the singer an overall “lifted” feeling and are associated with stress reduction. It’s also an aerobic activity, meaning it gets more oxygen into the blood for better circulation, which tends to promote a good mood.
- Choral singers need to concentrate on their music and technique throughout the singing process, and it’s hard to worry about things like work or money or family problems when you’re actively concentrating on something else. So choral singers tend to have a built-in “stress-free zone.” Learning is also part of the process — learning new songs, new harmonies, new methods of keeping tempo. Learning has long been known to keep brains active and fend off depression.
The question remains, though — why choral singing specifically? Concentration and deep breathing can happen in a recording studio, or in the privacy of your own home.
It’s because some of the most important ties between singing and happiness are social ones. The support system of being part of a group, and the commitment to that group that gets people out of the house and into the choir every week — these are benefits that are specific to group singing. And they seem to be a big component of why choral singers tend to be happier than the rest of us. The feelings of belonging to a group, of being needed by the other members of that group go a long way toward combating the loneliness that often comes along with being human in modern times.