Dr Christine Fanthome outlines the multiple benefits that singing in a choir has for PSHE
One of the best ways for young people to express their creativity, meet new friends and develop a range of skills is to join a choir. This is a pursuit that knows no age, gender, economic, geographical or social boundaries, and one which offers considerable benefits. No specialised equipment is required, costs are low, and choirs for all types of music – jazz, classical, pop, folk, musical theatre – are in operation all over the country. There is wide support for tutors regarding choir networking and special singing ventures.
The benefits of choir participation coincide with the key DfES Every Child Matters outcomes. Young people are offered a safe and healthy environment in which they can make a positive contribution and achieve personal and team success. They can explore and develop their talent and enjoy the social bonuses. The acquisition of transferable skills, such as time management and learning through self-reflection and feedback can be used later to achieve economic wellbeing.
Singing is a healthy pursuit which has physical and psychological rewards. Singing stimulates the production of antibodies which lowers the likelihood of upper respiratory infection and increases lung function and breathing. It also reduces stress and improves mood (Hallam, 2006), and there are many neurological benefits too.
Moreover, singing involves a disciplined approach to the care of the voice. The processes involved in communal singing, such as warm-up, breathing and toning exercises, encourage singers to take care of their voices and general health. This is a valuable strategy to adopt early in life.
Many young singers opt to participate in choir tours and residential courses. The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, for example, functions entirely through residential courses and tours in the Easter and summer holidays. These offer a safe environment in which young people can have fun together and visit new places in the UK and abroad.
‘Of all my choral experiences I have particularly enjoyed the residential courses. This is because the courses’ sole aims are to produce good music for concerts, so everyone works together towards a common goal, with no distractions hindering progress. In addition, you spend a lot of time with the other people on the courses and make good friends.’ (Aaron, aged 16)
Many choir members enjoy the intellectual and creative aspects of learning to read and interpret music, practising to achieve a better sound and overcoming any qualms in order to perform in front of an audience. Unsurprisingly, this process leads to greater self-confidence, self-esteem and pride in one’s achievements.
‘I like singing so much because it gives me a greater control over my voice and allows me to use it to do things that I had never thought were possible. Singing is also incredibly relaxing and gives you an ultimate goal to work towards and achieve. I also like how you can use your own body to achieve a musicality that is otherwise impossible to achieve without the aid of an instrument.’ (Elizabeth, aged 16)
The social side of belonging to a choir is very important and can lead to a strong sense of belonging. It provides an opportunity for getting to know new people, which can be particularly important for those, such as new undergraduates, who find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. For adolescents it can also be a less intense way of meeting members of the opposite gender.
‘In joining a choir at university I have met many new friends across many years, people I doubt I would otherwise have spoken to, and now they are among my best friends. In addition I find it a quick and easy (and cheap) way to make music, no expensive instruments or reeds are needed. In short, the best decision I made on arriving at university was joining a choir.’ (Fergus, aged 19)
Making a positive contribution
A choir performance is a team effort in which each individual is called upon to make a positive contribution. The music has to be studied, parts learned, notation interpreted, dynamics observed, direction followed, and individual creativity channelled towards a communal goal.
‘Being in a choir is really fun because you get to share your talent with others. It helps you get used to singing with other people and keeping the beat going between 50 or so people. It also is a confidence builder because it helps you learn to not be nervous so that you can sing in front of thousands of people! Choirs also make a piece sound better because you have the bass, tenor, alto and soprano parts so that there are many different sounds singing the same piece (which is nice for a change).’ (Lucia, aged 11)
Achieving economic wellbeing
Participating in a choir enables individuals to develop a range of transferable skills that can later be used to achieve economic wellbeing in the world of work. These include timekeeping and time management, interpersonal and communication skills, working well individually and as part of a team, learning through feedback and self-reflection, building up contacts and networking, and honing self-presentation skills.
‘Choral singing is an incredibly disciplined activity: everyone must move exactly to together, and feel part of a greater whole. Choral singing provides excellent aural training for aspiring musicians. It also gives the opportunity to participate in large-scale musical ensembles, which is otherwise only open to the more competent instrumentalists.’ (Daniel, music teacher)
Choir membership is dependent on an audition – are your pupils prepared?
- Hallam, S (2006) Music Psychology in Education. London: IOE.
- Dr Christine Fanthome is a freelance consultant, writer and lecturer.
First published in Learning for Life, September 2006