It’s absolutely true that more and more people are looking to join their local community choir to get their kicks and find some release from the fast and relentless pace of LIFE.
It seems to be something of a phenomenon during the last eight to ten years - maybe around the time that Gareth Malone introduced us to reality TV shows such as The Choir back in 2007.
Teaching people - who had never sung - that they could learn how to, that they could improve on technique and tone, harmonise, exercise their vocal chords, that they could learn to breathe deeply and above all to be part of something big, rewarding and exciting made for compelling TV.
Most choirs are relatively cheap to join – it's great value for your hard earned cash.
If a couple of beers in your local pub costs you around £9.00 and a coffee and cake in Costa £6.00, a prescription £8.60, a massage possibly somewhere around £40, a yoga class £10.00 and a decent bottle of wine £10.00, then it’s no surprise that we are all flocking to be part of the fun that these singing people seem to be having.
I often describe singing, or those moments when you are totally lost in the music, as being in the ZONE - much like a runner breaking through the wall on a 26 mile marathon.
When you surrender.
When you let it go.
When you are tuned in to your own self and the rhythm of your breath.
Then you are free.
For some it could be described as feeling closer to God or a feeling of deep connection.
For others it has become their religion.
A surge of endorphins such as dopamine rush through you, acting as neurotransmitters, sending signals of happiness and pleasure to your brain. Singing releases serotonin which reduces stress and depression thus increasing levels of happiness and wellbeing. Music also lowers cortisol which is a chemical that signals levels of stress.
It’s a fact that when you sing together in a group and in harmony your hearts beat at the same time. What greater connection could there be?
I myself have suffered over the years with a mild form of OCD and it has been such a relief to me that when I’m on stage with a band or standing in front of one of my choirs that the counting disappears, the worry melts and the fears vanish - much like meditation and mindfulness.
The escape is a healing thing.
How can it be that sufferers of Alzheimers who can’t even recognise their own children, can sing along to a favourite song, word perfect and in time?
Heart patients, Cancer survivors, those suffering from depression, autism, illnesses such as bi-polar, the bereaved, people in pain, all turn up week after week to sing and feel a whole lot better.
Music therapy is also being used to treat people with Tourettes and speech impediments.
It’s true that B.B. King suffered from a stutter but discovered the power of music could heal his problems. These are the opening lines to his autobiography….
I struggle with words. Never could express myself the way I wanted. My mind fights my mouth, and thoughts get stuck in my throat. Sometimes they stay stuck there for seconds or even minutes. As a child, I stuttered. What was inside couldn’t get out. I’m still not really fluent… Words aren’t my friends. Music is. Sounds, notes, rhythms. I talk through music.
Sufferers of anxiety-driven tics are all learning to relax through the art of playing music. I remember watching a documentary about a young guy who had Tourettes and he had zero control over the movements in his body until he got behind a drum kit. He was suddenly in complete control and played with great discipline and ease.
As Shakespeare said in Twelfth Night,
"If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
Play on and sing out!
Let’s keep our appetite rich and infinite. In fact let’s be gluttonous and feed our faces till we are packed full and overflowing with the good stuff.
Feed your souls and stuff yourself with happiness until it’s running over like the bath water. Let us feast on melody, song and harmony and let us find that connection and get into the groove, the pulse and the ZONE.
Go join a choir.
You'll never be hungry again.
by Julie Staines
Do you ever have a desire to try something new? A new sport, a martial art perhaps, maybe an evening of life drawing classes or learning to play the piano or to sing? Do you feel hindered by past emotions because someone told you that you couldn't or that you weren't capable?
Have you ever wanted to join a choir but think that you can't sing?
Recently, I read the book Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz MD, FICS which explains how the self image has control over our ability to fail or achieve any goal and I remembered that by using simple techniques such as visualisation, relaxation and mental rehearsal that we can overcome our doubts, fears and lack of belief - and lead happier and more successful lives.
Science tells us that our brains and nervous systems cannot tell the difference between our emotions in reality and when we're meditating or simply imagining something turning out well.
Sports people use this technique regularly, as do musicians, public speakers, sales-people and anyone that has to perform in some way or another. Boxers often fight with an imaginary fighter and basket ball players will imagine the ball going into the hoop many, many times.
We all know that if you tell a child often enough that he is stupid or no good at something, he will believe it and feel that he is a failure. In order to do something well you have to believe that you can - without limits. You have to trust that you are good at it and believe that you can become better and better.
One member of our choir said he wasn't allowed to sing in his school choir when he was a child. He struggled to achieve very much volume in his voice - it was as if he didn't own one.
He became a member of The Chicken Soup Choir years ago and has gone from strength to strength. His singing abilities have improved no end but more importantly, being given permission to sing out loud and strong is a deeply liberating experience after years of suppressing a desire to sing freely.
Another member said that she had been told by her mother – at a young age - that she couldn't sing. It had stifled her expression her whole life. Again, she joined the choir and soon became an extremely valued member with a very positive and happy energy about her. I heard her sing a solo one evening and heard the most warm and delicious tone to her voice. How could anyone have told her that she couldn’t sing?
As we began to discuss this further, more and more stories from other choir members unfolded that echoed a very similar and sad truth. I think if we delved in, most people would have elements of that in their past.
I have a 13 year old son who is already starting to say that he’s not great at certain subjects in school such as maths and science and yet his reports say otherwise. He is pretty confident but tiny areas of doubt can grow into crippling ones if left to fester. I can see already how telling himself he’s not good at something is having a small effect on his brain and that if he continues with that self doubt then it will become true.
I’ve always made a point of telling him everyday to have not just an average day but a brilliant one and to be the best version of himself that he can be - and yet still elements of doubt appear.
External influences and feelings of inadequacy in school can all contribute to a child experiencing feelings of failing.
I’ve started giving him the tools to eradicate those thoughts by learning to meditate and by using the art of visualisation to re-set those errors in the brain and create a new picture of his self.
When I was a child, my mum kept making me sing Doh a Deer, over and over and I had no idea why she was making me do that. I later discovered that she had recorded me singing it and sent it off to a stage school in London's West End. However, she didn't tell me. Why? So I didn't have to feel that I'd failed if I wasn't chosen.
Now I'm an adult, I appreciate that and though getting it wrong is massively beneficial, the feeling of failing is of no use at all (so thank you, mum).
As it turns out, I’m the sort of person who will carry on in spite of other people’s negativity. Their doubt in what I am capable of has armed me with the fire to prove those same people wrong. Perhaps it's down to my upbringing and having plenty of self esteem to begin with.
We learn one way - by getting it wrong the first time. It's all about muscle memory and it's necessary to make mistakes in order for our brains to work out how to correct them because that's what our brain wants to do. If you believe that you can't from the word go and you don't even try then you really won't ever know.
When I was a child I caught our family cat’s tail in the back of my chair as I pulled it in to eat at the table and she let out a yelp.
The cat died 25 years ago and yet I still look behind my chair as I sit down to eat. I know that I’m not going to see the cat there but it feels reassuring for me to keep making sure. I guess I never took the time to re-set the part of my thinking that prefers to check.
Books like Psycho Cybernetics and hundreds of other self help books out there tell us the same things over and over again but sometimes modern living – with its relentless pace so – means we forget to take time to heal and mend old scars. We can't allow old memories of ourselves to hold our future selves prisoner in a place where we are not good enough or not capable. The fear and self doubt stop us from embracing new ideas - like walking into a room and singing for the first time.
Perhaps while reading this, you can relate to it. Maybe someone told you to be quiet too often. Perhaps your own parents told you to shut up every time you opened your mouth to sing? Maybe you were booted you out of your school choir because you were too loud or out of tune ? If this resonates with you - even slightly - go out into the street or open up your window and shout out as loud as you can...
YOU WERE WRONG!!
I’M GOING TO JOIN A CHOIR!
I’M GOING TO SING!
BECAUSE I CAN SING!
AND ABOVE ALL...
I LOVE IT!
You know where to come...
by Kieran Fahy
Who the devil would call a choir ‘The Chicken Soup Choir’? The London Gospel Community Choir. OK. The Mormon Tabernacle. Yep. But The Chicken Soup Choir?
Bear with me. It works.
Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul, chose the title of their ridiculously successful motivational tool because of chicken soup’s restorative powers in homes for the elderly. Just think back to your own school days. My memories of childhood illness are defined by large bottles of Lucozade wrapped in orange cellophane and bowls of hot chicken soup. I was always back at school the next morning. It must have been the soup, right?
So here I am. The remains of the day’s warmth lingers. I could be in Santa Monica: the highway buzzes behind me as I watch the sun fade out, my hand clutching a cool vodka, lime and soda. But I’m not. I’m in Westbourne and I’m clutching a pint. Am I bitter? No, because I’m being gently thrilled.
It’s a Tuesday night and I’m sitting outside Centre Stage. As it approaches eight, I can hear them: voices drifting like an August zephyr, skimming the dusk with honeyed harmonies. This is not the King’s College Choir: they aren’t going to be breathing heavenly carols into my mum’s lounge on Christmas Day. This is different. This is The Chicken Soup Choir and, in its modest Tuesday night way, it’s making me - to quote one of its members - ‘warm and fuzzy’.
This choir doesn’t really do functions. They’re not really for hire: they sing; they feel good; they go home with light heads and even lighter hearts.
Richard Ayley, an electronics technician, who’s been singing with the choir for eleven weeks, enthuses about the spiritual benefits of this kind of singing. ”It’s a shared experience. It gets down into your soul. I measure my week by how long I’ve got until I go to choir. When I go into work, I can feel it. I’m a different person. I’m more confident.”
Julie Staines and Esther Frake have been running the choir since 2009, when it consisted of only ten or so members. It now has over sixty.
“I go home on a high,” says Sarah - a mother of two from Poole - as she ponders the allure of the choir, “and I don’t get to sleep until midnight. I love the community feeling of it.”
The room sizzles with a simple enthusiasm: the talent without the ego. None has auditioned, and only a few have sung beyond amateur level. The majority just want to make sweet noise.
They open the session with Elbow’s One Day Like This – a song that could have been written as a workout for a community choir – and they hold their own, passionately gathering every anthemic component together as they cruise by. Perfect Day, again, allows itself to be poured into the choir’s mould and, again, it stirs you where you like to be stirred.
Other choices seem less well suited to the choral format: One of Us and Sweet Dreams aren’t quite as commanding yet the distinctly unlikely numbers, Sex on Fire and Ash’s Shining Light - surprisingly – stand up as real thrillers. It occurs to me as the opening bars unfold that standing the impossibly delicate harmonies of God Only Knows against naked piano could be asking too much but this lot have the touch and the control to treat it right.
I return to Richard, who has been treated for depression on and off for the last seven years, and ask him how he’d feel if the choir hadn’t happened. “I’d probably be back on the antidepressants by now. They do work. But they take away the good bits as well as the bad bits.” The choir however, says Richard, softens the lows but enhances the highs. I’m starting to see what he means.
So I leave, and my hunger has eased. My recommendation?
Try the soup. It’s very good.
© Kieran Fahy 2010