Simply singing can improve one’s health

ADDISON COUNTY — “Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all,” wrote Stacy Horn of Time magazine in a piece this past summer on how singing can change a person’s brain.
If you ask the Middlebury Union High School chorus and the Maiden Vermont women’s barbershop singing group they’ll tell you that, boy, is she ever right.
All 78 members of the MUHS choir rise from their chairs and prepare to begin singing for the 40 minutes that they spend with their teacher Elizabeth LeBeau each day. At the start of the class, the group opens up their vocal chords to sing strands of “me-may-ma-moe-moo’s” going up and down the scale. LeBeau herself began singing when she was in kindergarten and she sang in church, too. She never was in an actual chorus until her senior year of high school. Then, one day, she was singing alone in the band room and the choir teacher, Stephanie Nolan, heard her and told her that she should join the choir.
LeBeau said she started teaching choir in 1998 because she realized how she could “affect people’s lives.”
Like their teacher, the students in her class have found the joy that singing holds. Sure, maybe some of them are in it for the arts credit, but when the class was asked as a whole about being interviewed, many hands shot into the air, eager to talk about how singing has affected them.
Senior Zaidie Barnard-Mayers said she just knows how singing makes her feel.
“I think it’s very freeing and relaxing and it’s a good thing to do,” she said.
Many students spoke on how singing has helped them connect to themselves, their feelings, and to other people.
“(Singing) makes me feel very happy. It’s just a good feeling inside — not warm and fuzzy, but it’s a really good feeling,” said junior Sara Byers.
Opera singer and Colorado native Charity Sunshine Tillemann-Dick spoke in a TED Talk back in October 2010 on how singing was the driving force behind her need to recover after a double lung transplant to relieve her of the pulmonary hypertension deteriorating her insides. The Pulmonary Hypertension Association describes the disease as “high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs that can lead to heart failure.” Her doctor originally told her that she needed to stop singing because it was harming her body much more than it was helping.
“After one performance I could barely drag myself from the stage to the taxi cab. I sat down and felt the blood rush down from my face and in the heat of the desert, I was freezing cold … I was dying,” said Tillemann-Dick, remembering an experience she had before deciding to get a transplant.
She didn’t want a transplant because she had been training her lungs for singing her entire life and didn’t want to start over. She underwent the 13-and-a-half-hour surgery for the transplant and though she experienced many traumas, her worst fear was that she would never be able to sing again.
Fortunately, her worst fears were not realized — in fact, quite the opposite.
“I was not limited when I sang and as air came up from my lungs through my vocal chords and past my lips as sound, it was the closest thing I had ever come to transcendence,” she said during her TED Talk.
Singing provided such a powerful outlet for Tillemann-Dick that she took her doctor’s advice in stride but continued on with her passion.
“Patients don’t just survive, we thrive. And some of us might even sing,” she said, driving home her point that singing is so incredibly important to the body, mind and heart.
Singing is something that to many people is so ordinary that it is easy to forget that it can be elevated to an art form. But talent isn’t required in order to get the stress-alleviating benefits of singing, according to Horn’s article “Singing Changes Your Brain.”
However, a little instruction and talent does help, according to several MUHS choir students who said they enjoy watching other people sing if they are good.
“If they are on pitch, then it makes me want to sing with them on stage,” said senior Rachel Howlett.
It is also easy to forget that in order to sing one has to learn how to do it, just like they learn everything else. But for human beings learning to sing seems to be second nature — so much so that the students had difficulty remembering how they did actually learn it. Many brought up how they picked it up by listening to their parents sing.
Howlett had a slightly more specific memory.
“I watched ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I wanted to be like Dorothy, so I sang ‘Over the Rainbow’ again and again and I still do,” she said.
So the verdict is in for these singers: Singing does make them feel happier. But maybe this inner feel-good isn’t just limited to singing. Instrumental musicians must reap some of the benefits too, right? Anne Severy, the band and jazz band teacher at MUHS, believes that musicians certainly gain happiness from playing music. Her music theory students had a difficult time putting their feelings on music into words. Alexander Marohnic, a freshman, said that while he is playing music, it helps him feel what the composer was feeling when they originally put the piece together.
Senior Max Moulton agreed.
“It helps me feel connected to the composer,” he said.
In contrast to the singers in the school, these instrumental music students knew exactly what they wanted to do with music in their lives. Freshman Sullivan Swearingen says his dream is for 100,000 audience members to be singing along with his songs as he plays on stage. On the other hand, senior Nikolas Shashok, who this past fall played trumpet in a prestigious performance of high schoolers from around the country, said he wants to go to school for acoustical engineering.
It seemed that the singers were more in touch with how singing made them feel in the moment but then faltered when thinking about long-term, attainable singing goals, differing from the instrumental musicians who couldn’t describe how the music made them feel but knew what they wanted to do with it.
Either way, music has reached its notes out to both singers and musicians. 
Back in the chorus room, LeBeau’s students received a special surprise at a recent class when 2004 alumna Jessica Pominville stopped in to practice two songs in front of the choir as she prepared for an audition for the TV show “The Voice.” She started singing when she was in second grade and believes that it makes her feel physically healthier.
“Music is the universal language,” she said.
Pominville said that in general, she is much happier when music is in her life and she finds that her life is missing something when it is absent.
“I hear it, I feel it, and I sense it everywhere. I am at home in the notes,” she said when asked what she loves about singing.
Here’s the best part about singing: Anyone can do it. Whether one is a world-class tenor or simply an amateur singing at home, endorphins — the feel-good hormones — are still released in the brain during the outpouring of song and breath — no matter the singer’s skill level. In other words, there is nothing to stop you from belting that catchy song on the way to work or from humming to yourself while you prepare dinner. If it makes you happy, then why not!

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