Monday, May 30, 2016

On a Healthy Note


I wrote an article for the Hindu Metroplus, which they published on May 30th.  A subject close to my heart - my involvement with the choir, the Capital City Minstrels, has taught me a lot and continues to give me so much beyond just making music with other people. The benefits of choral singing are much more than one would imagine, and I chose to write about that, weaving in the experiences of other members in the choir.  The original article was a bit longer and had a bit of humour in it, while the final published piece (image below) was shortened a bit to meet word limit requirements and also keep the tone more informative and factual.

I'm sharing the original for a few of my friends or those who might enjoy my slightly longer version, with a bit of humour thrown in.

Hindu Metroplus, May 30, 2016

Music has always been an integral part of my life.  I was an abysmally poor clarinet player, a reasonably good dancer, and I am a safety-in-numbers-singer with a choir.  I’ve been a chorister for five years in school and now completing half a decade with the Capital City Minstrels in Delhi. CCM, as the choir is better known, has been performing in India and abroad for 22 years, with members from across the world.  And several, if not all, of us have experienced how choral singing is not just about singing in unison, but benefits the mind, body and soul.

Courtesy: Monica Chhabra
We have a horrendously addictive Whatsapp group, which wreaks havoc on mind and body, and I suspect does very little for our souls.  Apart from inane chatter, some articles on music feature as well. One pictogram showed the physical benefits of singing -from keeping vocal cords exercised so you sound younger; to getting an oxytocin high  - the happy hormone produced during childbirth (happy?) and sex (possibly explaining the slightly flushed and unconquerable look some of us get after singing). Another interesting piece was research by the Tenovus Cancer Centre, which analysed saliva samples of singers with cancer or caring for a cancer patient and found that just one hour of choral singing increased levels of immune proteins, reduced stress and improved mood - helping patients to be in the best position to receive treatment.

It made me think about how several of us in CCM have been impacted in similar ways – social, psychological and biological.  I am close to my choir mates, but they would probably draw the line if I took a swab to their mouths for a saliva sample. However, several of us have experiences that demonstrate benefits.  After losing my father, the devastation and helplessness I felt was savage and relentless. But almost on auto pilot, I returned to rehearsals shortly after.  The exhilaration that fills you when different voice parts blend in harmony and the camaraderie of the group gave me peace, joy and stability amidst the upheaval. Another member referred to the difficult time she had after losing her brother, tragically on a rehearsal night.  It took her some time to re-join CCM and sing her heart out in a cathartic outpouring - “I don’t pray anymore, I sing with my choir”.  Returning to the stage a couple of days after losing his father, Neeraj Devraj mentioned how important it was for him to sing with the choir at the time, in tribute to his father.
Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography

Others talk about choral singing helping with illness or work pressures, which manifest in problems like hypertension, insomnia or stress.  Dr. George Mathew, Reader with the Nehru Homeopathic Medical College, describes the rejuvenation he feels after rehearsals as a great stress buster.  Another member describes the problems faced when her husband fell ill and her daughters were young. She joined CCM in the early 2000s and refreshed and renewed through song, it took her through two angiograms and caring for post-operative trauma.  Yamini Joshi, a musician and music therapist, found CCM when she had fallen sick in college and was struggling to find an anchor.  “Having a choir family allows you to share and be surrounded by positivity. I find the act of going to rehearsal on a Wednesday evening after work, just brightens my day…it’s a mix of maturity and gay abandon.” 

Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography
Choral singing is also a great equalizer.  You can be a great soloist, a corporate bigwig, a struggling artist – you sing as one with the rest of your section.  Aasish Francis described his job where he was more of a single contributor in a smaller organization. He felt that being a part of the larger CCM not only “helps you understand your place as part of a larger whole, but also teaches you to guide and motivate others as they make the same journey”.  Another example of this was CCM singing in Europe last year.  We were hosted by a Swiss choir that didn’t speak much English and we communicated through hand gestures, smiling, and Google dictionary.  But when we sang together - language, age and racial differences melted away. 


So I may not have saliva samples to test, but most choristers will vouch for the power and healing of singing in unison.

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