Spilling Over into Everyday Life
In both Canada and the UK, the singing groups were not only seen to provide individuals with a safe space and offer them the chance to free their mind from their everyday stresses, but this effect was also seen to carry through into their everyday lives. From small things like an increase in confidence, or just simply having fun once a week with the singing group, it appears that individuals who were in the case of the Canada group, experiencing acute learning and developmental needs, and those in the UK experiencing psychological distress, became able to manage their well-being outside of the group much more. Bruce, the leader of the group in Canada suggests that the process of socialising in a situation in which singing is the main focus has the biggest effect on the members’ well-being. Highlighting how members of his group often struggle in social situations, he suggests, ‘It’s the social effects, that’s going to impact there and will, the biggest difference is going to be made I think.’
Whilst you could argue that any social event would have a similar impact and help facilitate these spillover effects, we have seen in the above sections that there seems to be something more specific about the nature of signing, be it learning the songs, producing a collective song or having a shared goal. This is a point Christina (Surrey Place Centre) elaborates on when she talks about how the group has impacted the everyday lives of its members. As she comments:
I’m working on getting someone to be able to get up in the morning because they just have a hard time and they are I don’t know they have autism and just everything is that much more difficult... they can make decisions that a lot of them their self-esteem really increases because they feel like oh I feel like we have a goal, we, we go and perform at concert and they are able to do that and they are very proud of themselves afterwards (Christina)
Here the goal of the singing group’s public performance is presented as a core facilitator for spillover effects of the group members. The difficulty of fulfilling everyday tasks, such as getting up in the morning, is in no way suggested to be completely overcome through simply being a member of a singing group. Rather, through the increased self-esteem, feelings of achievement and just simply having something to work towards, Christina suggests that the singing group members have a new sense of purpose in their lives, something often lacking for individuals in serious distress,20 and this sense of purpose helps to motivate them to push through the struggles of everyday life.
In the UK groups the public performances were also singled out as a key contributor to the ways in which self-confidence and general feelings of achievement can be enhanced. For example, Mark highlights the ways in which singing provides him with an element of purposeful challenge; even if this does evoke some anxiety, the overall effect is positive. As he comments, ‘It (performing) tests us, which is good, we could probably do without the tension, but it’s good that we stretch ourselves a bit, otherwise you can become complacent.’ In another interview Gemma comments that the group performance also helped her in how confident she feels in herself and how testing herself in a different area of life has been a positive experience for her. Talking about her experiences Gemma states that ‘for someone who is a fairly confident person, or perceived to be confident, but when it comes to things like that [public singing performance] I’m not, but I’ve noticed that change in myself’. Luke highlights similar spillover effects that the singing group has had on him:
You’re a bit shy at first but once you start singing and let yourself go ... I thought I can sing in a choir as it doesn’t matter what you sound like. and they get you better and you get your confidence back. It builds your confidence and it’s even good for public speaking. It trains your voice to get better. I think it’s fantastic
Whilst confidence appeared to be one of the key positive effects that being part of the singing group had on the members’ lives, Francesca also highlights the effects that being part of a singing group had on her more general cognitive ability. As she comments, ‘It helps your memory as you’re getting older because you have to remember the words’; thus in this sense it could be seen as a type of mental exercise that keeps the brain ‘fit’ and healthy in much the same way that cycling keeps the body fit and healthy. This mental exercise could be seen to be part of the reason Francesca feels much better in her general life as suggested by her comments later in the interview: ‘I must confess I feel very content at the moment and singing must have something to do with it.’ These spillover effects are clearly articulated by Jayne when she talks of her partner’s reaction to how she is when returning home after a singing group meet. As she notes, ‘I came back at the end of the session and my partner, said to me “you have a big fat grin all over your face”. I just know that at every session it just lifts me and I know it energises me.’
For the Love of Music
In this final section we hope to explore the simple love for music as an activity that enriches and binds people from all types of situations. Such is the uplifting effect of music that Eddie perhaps could have found some relief from his all-consuming experiences of distress. As highlighted in the introduction to this chapter, singing is one of the longest standing social activities for humans. Throughout history singing has featured in all manner of aspects of people’s lives. As we have seen above, it appears to have a significant impact on the ways in which people in distress come to manage their situation. What then makes singing such a special activity? Whilst we don’t wish to speculate on the range of chemical processes that singing might facilitate, we do wish to show what the members and workers in the UK and Canada have to say about the special nature of singing, particularly singing in a group, as the following quotes articulately show:
I don’t feel that singing has had an impact on my health as such, but it does make me feel good ... When you hear a choir sing it is a very positive and uplifting experience (James)
I feel so good when I stop singing, and whatever song, not all the songs are what I would like necessarily, but I just enjoy singing, and then you hear a group of people singing together, it always sounds so good, even when we make our mistakes ... I always leave on a high (Francesca)
A feeling of almost euphoria (Gemma)
Everyone in the choir loves to sing, just the act of singing together week after week I mean that in of itself is, is really you know therapeutic for a lot of people (Bruce)
Generally you feel good in yourself and you feel more energetic. I seem to feel I have more energy afterwards (Luke)
As is clear in all of the above quotes, the practice of singing makes people feel better about themselves. For some it makes them feel energised, and for others it provides a sense of feeling ‘on a high’, feeling positive, uplifted, and perhaps as Bruce notes, provides a type of therapy. For Gemma though, it is perhaps even more than this offering her a feeling akin to euphoria. Indeed, Bruce (the leader of the Surrey Place Centre) suggests that not only does singing uplift those participating in the activity, but when performing in public the positive effects of the activity also have a significant impact on the audience. As he comments, ‘the joy on the faces of the people that are performing and singing and you know it, it’s just that, it’s so palpable to anyone who, who’s in the audience’.