8 months ago · Leah Fogt · 0 comments
On April 7th I had the honor of participating in a very special community concert in Dayton. The choir I sing with at Incarnation Catholic Church in Centerville joined together with many other community choirs and music groups to put on a concert called “Unity through Harmony” with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Neal Gittleman. The concert featured sacred music from around the world representing multiple religions, ethnicities, and languages. Some of the participating choral groups included the Dayton Jewish Chorale, Omega Baptist Church Choir, Ministerio de Música Hispano Nuevo Amanecer, the University of Dayton Ebony Heritage Singers, and the University of Dayton World Music Chorale. We performed at the Dayton Masonic Center to a large and enthusiastic audience.
At this special event we were able to celebrate diversity and a shared love of music. We learned to move to the music in new ways, sing in new languages, and form relationships with our neighbors of different religious backgrounds. At one of the rehearsals, I had a lovely conversation with some singers representing the Jewish community. We were able to draw interesting parallels between our two religions and learn about one another. It was a reminder to me that Truth can be found in connecting with strangers…who can become friends!
The concert itself was a moving experience, particularly in the pieces we performed after intermission when all the choral groups joined together in one massive choir. The fullness of sound when all those voices of different ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and faiths sang as one ensemble made my heart swell with joy! I was encouraged to see such unity at a time when division in our country seems to be increasing. While there were times when the combined choirs sang in harmony, one of the pieces (One Voice by Ruth Moody, arranged by Neal Gittleman), closed in unison with the following moving lyrics:
This is the sound of one voice.
One people, one voice,
A song for every one of us.
This is the sound of one voice.
After the concert ended, and we all said our goodbyes, I found myself reflecting on the powerful experience I had rehearsing for and performing in this concert. The therapist that I am, I couldn’t help but think about the mental health benefits of what we had just experienced as a group of musicians, and more importantly, as human beings. It’s also no wonder then, that 32.5 million Americans regularly sing in a choral group (Chorus America, 2009).
In one of my favorite books on trauma treatment and recovery, “The Body Keeps the Score,” Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014) writes about the benefits of communal rhythm, theatre, and group song. He reminds us that humanity has used creative expression, especially music, “to cope with [our] most powerful and terrifying feelings” (p. 332) and that, “Collective movement and music create a larger context for our lives, a meaning beyond our individual fate” (p. 333). Throughout history, communities have used music to express, cope, heal, teach, and grow. We see this in examples such as Ancient Greek Theatre, the religious rituals practiced around the world, military drills, and cheers and songs at sporting events. During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, group song encouraged growth and healing for the nation, particularly the well-known anthem, “We Shall Overcome.” Similarly, communal song and dance were integral parts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work in South Africa in 1996 as the country healed from the wounds of Apartheid. As Van Der Kolk states, “Our sense of agency, how much we feel in control, is defined by our relationship with our bodies and its rhythms. Our waking and sleeping and how we eat, sit, and walk definitely the contours of our day” (p. 331). So it’s no wonder we find relief and healing in movement and song.
In 2011, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation in Australia published a survey and literature review highlighting the benefits of group singing for individuals and communities. The publication emphasized that findings in numerous studies show group song leads to increased self-confidence, empowerment, sense of wellbeing, and interpersonal skills. It decreases feelings of isolation, increases social capital, and fosters denser social and friendship networks. I’ve condensed some of the specifics of these findings below.
The truly beneficial impact of group singing continues to be reaffirmed, study after study. The positive social, personal, and functional outcomes of making music with others cannot be denied, especially in offering healthy meaningful activity and social connectedness even for those in adversity (Dingle, et. Al., 2013).
I can attest to the many benefits of group singing from both my personal experiences and those shared with me by friends, family, and clients. Even for those who claim they are “not musically inclined” group singing can bring such joy and togetherness.
I close with some poignant yet playful lyrics from an old school Sesame Street song (Rapso, 1971). This song has become a classic, covered by many artists and singing groups. I hope in encourages you to smile and lift your voice in song, friends!
Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body keeps the score brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Gridley, H., Astbury, J., et. Al. (2011). Benefits of group singing for community mental health and wellbeing: Survey and literature review. Victorian Health promotion Foundation (VicHealth), Carlton, Australia.
Chorus America. (2009). How children, adults, and communities benefit from choruses: The Chorus Impact Study.Washington, DC: Chorus America.
Dingle, G. A., Brander, C., Ballantyne, J., & Baker, F. A. (2013). ‘To be heard’: The social and mental health benefits of choir singing for disadvantaged adults. Psychology of Music, 41(4), 405–421.
Neal Gittleman, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra
Dayton Performing Arts Alliance
Kevin Samblanet, Incarnation Catholic Church