Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Choir of Unheard Voices

This is a wonderful interview with singers and the conductor of a choir in northern Australia. Thank you to friend Brian Livings in Sydney for sending this site to me. While the singing is 'unique' as far as best practice is concerned, it is great to hear what the participants say, and what singing is doing for people in a different context. I wonder if this choir in a year's time will still be singing with 'flexible' intonation. If so I would see that as unfortunate. I have personally found that, in every setting, singers can improve. It's a bit like riding a bike, you keep doing it, you get better.

The Choir of Unheard Voices

Text from the above website:

Singing for Soul

Using the regional arts development fund given by the Mackay Regional Council the Mental Illness Fellowship of North Queensland have set up a unique way to cope with mental illness.

Known as 'The Choir of Unheard Voices' ABC reporter Daniel Hamilton went along to find out about the power of music.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Hamilton Chorale joins my research

I have been conductor of the Hamilton Chorale now for nearly two years, a community-based non-auditioned adult choir. In looking at my new direction I examined where this fitted in. In fact there is a good synergy, because many of the choir members are retired, and I know there is at least one 80-yr-old. I think that they have become used to my expectations and it will be interesting to compare and contrast the fully independent Chorale members and the Glee Club members; their motivations, their back stories and what singing in a choir does for them. In addition I want to contact the people who have left the Chorale recently, to hear their story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Group Singing Is Good for You!

According to an article in Medical Hypotheses, “Vibration of the human skull, as produced by loud vocalization, exerts a massaging effect on the brain and facilitates expulsion of metabolic products into the cerebrospinal fluid, leading neurophysicists to hypothesize that vocal vibrations cause a kind of cleaning of the chemical cobwebs out of the head. A process as simple as singing might well make the removal of chemical waste from the brain more efficient.
Medical Hypotheses Vol 25 Issue 1
Mechanical effect of vocalization on human brain and meninges

And according to a recent study by the University of California, Irvine, singing in a choir just might make you healthier. This study, authored by Robert Beck and Thomas Cesario and published in Music Perception, found that Immunoglobulin A, a protein used by the immune system to fight disease, increased 150 percent during rehearsals and 240 percent during performance.: Beck, R. J.; Cesario, T. C.; Yousefi, A.; Enamoto, H..
Music Perception, Fall 2000, Vol. 18 Issue 1,

There certainly is a sense of euphoria that choral singers experience after a particularly inspiring rehearsal or performance. But part of that sensation is due to more than just individual physiology; it derives from the cooperative effort that is at the heart of the choral endeavor. The late great conductor Robert Shaw thought of a chorus as a “community of _expression,” whose meaning “rests upon a common devotion to the composer’s utterance and a mutual respect for the personal dignity of fellow-workers.” Shaw’s associate, Ann Howard Jones enlarged on this idea. Noting that in a chorus the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts, she wrote, “I know of no other activity where access to the most profound artistic works can be made possible and satisfying for the participant who has limited skills as an individual but whose capacity is enlarged by the group.”

In one study, a health educator and music professor teamed up for a study published in England’s Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, in which they reported choral singing promoted not just physical health, but offered emotional and spiritual benefits as well. Using their own choir as a basis for their study, Dr. Stephen Clift and Grenville Hancox developed questionnaires to document physical and emotional feelings while singing. Singers reported improved lung capacity, high energy, relieved asthma, better posture, and enhanced feelings of relaxation, mood, and confidence. In a follow-up questionnaire, 89 percent of the singers reported intense happiness while singing, 79 percent felt less stressed, and 75 percent experienced heightened adrenaline and wakefulness.

NZ Association of Gerontology, Auckland AGM

I was pleased to present at the annual meeting of the NZAG Auckland branch on Monday October 20th. What is a strong aspect of my research is the use of participant voice, and I was able to present them with the findings from five groups, with a total of 96 participants and over 50 respondents. As well as the findings they were able to view video footage of the Hilda Ross Glee Club, taken when they performed at the School of Education, University of Waikato September 2007. My own observation of that footage was how much their singing had improved in the subsequent year, and that is another strong aspect of my work; that there is an expectation in every group that their singing will improve, in such ways as breathing and tone.

Lively discussion followed the presentation, and the attendees willingly participated in an impromptu singing lesson, as the discussion moved to their own singing. I look forward to interacting more with the NZGA Auckland branch.


The content of the movie young@heart is matching experiences happening here in Hamilton, New Zealand. The Hilda Ross Glee Club has been active now for two years, not the 15 years that the Young@heart group had been functioning. But in that time the Glee Club has performed for their peers, and for outside audiences on average of 4 times a year. In 2007 they were guest performers at the Gerontology Conference in Hamilton, and were featured on National Radio. This group is formed from the people who occupy the villas at this Ryman Healthcare facility.

I also work with the Resthome Singers at the same facility, and the joy that they show in their singing is heartwarming.

Tomorrow I go to speak at the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Association of Gerontology's annual meeting, and my topic is my Hilda Ross groups. To flesh out this presentation, I asked my Glee Club members last week to tell me the benefits they found in singing in the Glee Club, and in the process found out so much more of their back-stories:

* Harry sang as a child, then spent 3 years in a prisoner of war camp and didn't sing afterwards. He moved, with his wife, to New Zealand, and never sang in church. Now he can sing higher than before, and his wife reports that he sings in church now!
* Wally stopped singing 20 years ago when his wife of 48 yrs died. he has just turned 90 and he thinks that he sings better than ever now
* Keith has always been interested in music and being involved in the Glee Club has broadened his knowledge about music and has improved his singing.
* Cecilia has Parkinson's disease which has affected her voice, and the singing has helped her control those effects.
* Pauline has found that her lung capacity has improved greatly after losing part of a lung, and she has a wonderful uplifted joyful feeling at the end of our practices.
* Ngaire takes Glee Club as her time out. She has a husband with multiple sclerosis, and she enjoys this time and thoroughly enjoys singing.
* Betty finds the rehearsals are wonderful therapy, 'fantastic, it just does something for you, you feel a bit blue and you start singing and it's wonderful'.
* Elizabeth has a chronic lung complaint, and it is really a joy to sing and it improves her breathing.
* Tui has had her enjoyment of singing renewed, and she leaves the rehearsal feeling like she has had a tonic.

For my first post I will leave you with their voices.