If in Doubt, Sing It Out...
A New Identity
When we think about Eddie and all the other people out there that suffer silently due to the way society has forced them to feel ‘different’, lonely, disconnected and even pathologised as ‘mentally different’ by a range of psy-professionals, we often wonder if there is hope.16 Yet what if there were a space in which such individuals simply could gather? Not as a group specifically set up and administered by psy-professionals, which whilst being a valuable service to some, could have the potential to make others feel further pathologised. Rather, we are thinking of a space where people can ‘take off’ their individual identities and personal inhibitions at the door and hang them next to their coats—a space where an achievable and enjoyable collective goal is set and the people in this space dedicate all of their focus to achieving that goal, the goal being collective singing, sometimes for a performance, sometimes not. It is as simple as that, the coming together of a group of people irrespective of their talents or problems, a space in which they can feel free of judgement. As Christina, one of the workers in Surrey Place Centre, Canada, comments, ‘we don’t really judge, we don’t actually care if they are tone deaf cos it’s not a requirement to have a great voice for choir, it’s that you enjoy singing’.
Such is the nature of a space in which individuals aren’t judged that even if they feel shy or nervous when they first start out in the groups, these feelings tend to drift off as they engage more and more in the singing exercises. Bruce, the leader of the Surrey Place Centre singing group likens this removal of inhibitions to that of the ‘blossoming of a flower’. As Bruce suggests, ‘People that are incredibly shy you know incredibly anxious when they first start especially you know if they are new and everyone else has been there and knows each other you know, and then to see them like just blossom you know and just you know change over the course of even just a couple of weeks you know and really open up and really you know develop their self-confidence’.
Of course, it isn’t just the practice of singing in a safe space that creates such feeling and positive well-being effects. This isn’t simply singing in the shower to yourself; rather there is something special noted in the collective element of the singing groups. As Luke, a member of one APS group, rather clearly states, ‘First of all you’ve got to sing in a group, it’s much better than singing on your own.’ Such is the power of this ‘safe space’ where individual identities no longer define the person but the collective sense of belonging, a shared goal, and active learning become the focus of their engagement with the groups. As Gemma, a member of one
APS group comments, ‘Every week, I’m looking forward to going back to learning new songs and meeting up with people again. A group of people I most probably wouldn’t come in to contact with through any other way. There is a great sense of being part of the group now which is really nice.’ Through this activity members of the group are able to ‘free their mind’ of the daily stressors and issues they face. This space allows for a childlike sense of fun to be returned to their lives, something many don’t often feel, particularly those that have become isolated from society due to a range of factors, including those Eddie highlights at the start of this chapter. As Francesca, an APS group member, comments, ‘I think it is good for you, for me I don’t think about anything else when I’m there. There’s a lot of laughter that goes on in our choir, it’s a happy choir, I don’t know everyone yet, but everyone is very friendly.’ Thus, at its very basic level a singing group could have potentially offered Eddie the space he needed to feel part of something, to feel understood for once in his life and to feel he has an achievable collective goal to follow. That appears to be the magic of collective singing—‘The fact that we can sing together, without ever singing together before in our lives’ (Darren, APS).