Would I recommend joining a choir to anyone, at any time, at any age? You bet! Singing in a group, whether it’s as small as a dynamic barbershop quartet or as large as the mighty Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the great joys in life, a unique and rewarding experience like none other! You are part of a team, just like an athlete who plays a sport, but it’s a team of musical artists creating something that is eternal, and yet ephemeral— a peak musical moment in time that not only uplifts you and your fellow singers, but moves your audience in profound and deeply memorable ways.
Singing in an ensemble can truly change your life— it has certainly changed mine! In addition to all my solo work, I have spent the majority of my singing career in one vocal group or another, and the depth and breadth of knowledge, experience, friendships, adventures and sheer delight I have gained from singing in choirs is incredible! It has helped to shape who I am today as a professional singer, voice teacher and human being.
Just a sample of some of the never-to-be forgotten choral experiences I’ve had… One year I was singing with the Lamplight Carolers quartet at the height of the Christmas season on Hollywood Blvd., in front of the Hollywood and Highland shopping center. When we started singing, frazzled shoppers who were running around searching for yet another gift to buy, and bedraggled homeless people who were wandering aimlessly on the street all stopped, gathered around, and were truly moved by our singing of “Silent Night”. It was such a poignant moment, where everyone, regardless of who they were and what their life was like, stopped, listened and shared in the beauty and spirituality of the harmonious sound and meaningful lyrics. Some people had tears in their eyes, and so did I…
And, there are moments of musical ecstasy! I sang in the glorious Carmel Bach Festival for nine years, and had the pleasure of working with world-class musicians from all over North America and Europe. It was always a five-week cornucopia of phenomenal musical experiences, but the first time I sang Bach’s B-minor Mass was above them all. I will never forget the “Cum Sancto Spiritu” fugue at the climax of the first half. The music is absolutely sublime, divine, and beyond genius, and with all the forces of a huge choir, spectacular orchestra and great conductor, as the music reached its incredible crescendo, we almost felt like we were levitating off the stage! That was a transformational moment, where it felt like everything in the universe was one, and a glimpse of Heaven was at hand!
I could recount many more terrific tales, but suffice to say that participating in a choir gives you so much more than you put in, both in the rehearsals and the performances— which yes, can be hard work, but FUN hard work. The connections you make with your fellow singers, the sense of accomplishment in creating a wide variety of wonderful music, and the feeling of mastery you get in your own singing are just a few of the many benefits of participating in the choral experience.
Let’s look a closer look at what choir singing can do for you:
1. Major improvements in physical health. Singing in a choir improves your posture, strengthens your respiratory system, lowers your blood pressure, calms your heartbeat, and strengthens your immunity. A 2008 joint Harvard/Yale study of a choir in Connecticut actually found that singing in a choir increased life expectancy! It can also create new pathways in the brain, and has been shown to help patients with a variety of medical issues such as stroke recovery, Parkinson’s disease and lung disease.
2. Major improvements in mental health. Like participating in sports, singing in a choir boosts your endorphins, and decreases stress, depression and anxiety. Choir singing is almost a form of meditation, as the deep breathing and concentration needed mimic the same beneficial results. Also, our bodies are comprised mainly of liquid, and the sound waves the choir creates send vibrations deeply penetrating our bodies, moving through our tissues and organs. The sound resonates directly into our cells, creating emotional release and a sense of peace. In addition, a recent study found that less than half of Americans engage in a pleasurable hobby or activity outside of their normal work life! Singing in a choir puts that missing puzzle piece back into a well-balanced, enjoyable life.
3. Builds a sense of community with others. One of the number one complaints of modern society is that people feel more isolated than ever before. “The need to belong is a fundamental human motivation” say social psychologists Roy Bauermeister and Mark Leary in their “belonging hypothesis”. We need to connect with others regularly, and singing in a choir gives us that bonding experience and closeness that is so often missing in other areas of our lives. This can be especially important for seniors, who as they age may become more house-bound or lose connections with friends and family.
4. Develops a feeling of altruism and activism. Being part of a singing ensemble and achieving a common goal in music enhances the feeling of having a larger purpose in life beyond your own needs and wants. This spurs choir singers to become more active in their community beyond their musical endeavors, and more attuned to the needs of others, creating more good in the world over all.
5. Improves your singing and speaking voice. The more you exercise your singing voice (correctly), the stronger and more dynamic it will become. Most choirs have at least one rehearsal a week, and that, added to any performances the group has, will give your voice more of an opportunity to stretch and out and develop. And, any good vocal work you do for singing will make you speaking voice stronger, freer, healthier and more expressive as well.
6. Improves your musicianship. This is a biggie! You will have the opportunity to improve your music-reading, your sight-singing, your ability to harmonize with and hear other vocal parts simultaneously (selective hearing), your use of dynamics, your phrasing, your ability to sing in tune, your sense of rhythm and tempo, and a host of other elements that make up good musicianship. This will serve you not only in choir, but in your solo singing and in any musical endeavor where you will be working with other musicians. For example, I have had to arrange vocal parts for my band, recordings and other events, and I can truly say that choral singing made that skill much sharper for me.
7. Learning to work with a conductor, accompanist and/or orchestra.
Singing with a wonderful conductor can be one of the most fulfilling joys of ensemble singing. A passionate and inspiring conductor can make you want to sweat blood and leave your very soul on the stage! You can’t wait to go to rehearsal, because you know it’s going be a terrific collaboration every time, resulting in great performances you’ll never forget. And, for many singers, this is the first time they get to work with a professional piano accompanist and/or an orchestra. Having these wonderful musicians and the unique sounds of their instruments contributing to the choral experience is yet another plus of singing in a choir setting.
8. Exposure to great masterworks, as well as new music and choral gems. Singing in a good choir will give you the opportunity to discover music you may never have known existed! Your musical world will expand exponentially, and you will be amazed and delighted at the never-ending smorgasbord of great music out there. This will help you develop “big ears”, enhancing your musical knowledge, appreciation and vocabulary, which will make every aspect of your singing life better.
9. Builds performing experience, confidence and self-esteem. The more you sing, perform, and put yourself “out there” through choral singing, the more likely you will be to want to audition for solos (if that is a goal), and that new-found confidence will spill over into other areas of your life as well. You may also develop leadership skills, helping other singers in your section learn their music, or just being a good example of preparation, dependability, and strong vocal skills that others can aspire to.
10. Spiritual enrichment. If your choir is through a place of worship, or you sing in a group that just happens to include sacred music in its repertoire, you have a unique opportunity to use choral singing as a form of prayer. Whether it is the sonority of the actual sound created that touches you on a primal physical level, or the meaning of the actual lyrics you are singing (or both), choral singing may be your way of praying to a Higher Power and feeling connection to the Divine.
11. New friends and contacts. I have made some life-long friends with fellow singers and conductors that I have met in my ensemble singing, enriching relationships I would not have had without joining a choir. And, on a practical level, the more musicians you know, the more contacts that could connect you to other groups, singing jobs, auditions, teachers, etc. The music business, even as a hobby, is one of connections. It never hurts to know more singers!
12. Opportunities for Travel. In addition to local performances, many choirs, both amateur and professional, go on tour. You can travel the state, the country or abroad with many choral groups, and although you will be singing and working hard, you’ll also have down time to sight-see and enjoy places you might never have been to without that choir!
Convinced yet? If you’ve never sung in a great choral group before, you may still be a little hesitant to take the plunge. Are you nervous to audition and afraid you wont make the cut? Don’t let that stop you! Even if you don’t get in, you will have valuable knowledge about what skills are needed, and that could start you taking voice lessons, or working on your music-reading ability, so that the next time you audition for a group, you will be more prepared. See my post on auditions:https://singingvoicesuccess.com/2018/04/07/you-audition-but-dont-get-it-how-to-turn-a-seeming-failure-into-ultimate-success/
And, there are plenty of volunteer groups where you don’t even have to audition. You can join, get some experience and improve your skills, and then try for that more advanced group that requires an audition later.
Or, perhaps you think that being in a choir is “old-fashioned” or only for people who sing in church? Wrong! Today’s vocal groups range from the very traditional to the latest pop styles, and everything in between. There’s a group out there that’s right for you, and all it takes is a little research to find a good fit. The two best places to start are local colleges and places of worship. Both usually have multiple choral groups, singing everything from the great classical masterworks to arrangements of the latest thing on the radio. Also check out community activity programs, ask friends who sing in groups they enjoy, and of course you can always do a Google search for singing opportunities in your area. Try different search terms— choirs, chorales, singing groups, barbershop, gospel, etc. and see what results you pull up.
So what’s not to love?! I can think of few activities that can bring as much benefit to your life as choral singing, on an amazing number of invaluable levels you may never have thought possible. So Sing, Pray, Love— and become yet another joyful singer who knows the kaleidoscope of pleasures that singing in a choir can bring!