Ways of Seeing by Ruth Farmer: Lifting my voice
Last night, I sang with 30 or so women at one of the open sings regularly offered by Womensing, a local a capella group. This was a perfect way to finally shake off the mental and physical fatigue that had descended upon me after directing a ten-day residency that required me to work 12 hours a day.
Singing has always brought me pleasure and, as it turns out, it is physiologically and emotionally beneficial.
As a writer, a teacher of online classes, and a director of a low-residency program, I am in frequent contact with people by phone, email, discussion forums, and videoconferences. I appreciate the ability to get work done without driving several or many miles a day.
These conveniences have their downsides, of course. Sitting for too long has been associated with decreased blood flow to the brain, increased risk of heart failure, and even increased mortality. My aching back and knees let me know that I have to get up from the computer if I want to stay healthy.
And while it is great to talk to folks via phone or video, face-to-face contact — unmediated by a computer screen — is a welcome change. Physical activity and being in the same room with others have become regular items on my to-do lists. Group singing is a good way to accomplish both.
There have been many studies about the benefits of singing. In his book, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” Daniel Pink makes the point that people who sing in groups have a greater sense of well-being than those who sing alone. In their “Journal of Voice” article, “A Review of the Physiological Effects and Mechanisms of Singing,” Kang et al discuss the findings of a study of 210 adults, which revealed that those in a singing group had reduced incidences of depression, were more resilient, and had enhanced quality of life.
Decreased cortisol levels among the study group suggest that singing is a stress-reducing activity. Singing also improved neurological networks, thus enhancing happiness and immune function. In the “Evolution and Human Behavior” article, “Singing and social bonding,” Weinstein et al show that group singing fosters closeness whether or not people know each other.
Breathing, clapping, and moving around the beautiful Open Sky Studio as we sang was exhilarating. Because I am an introvert, I had to talk myself into leaving my house. Once I was there, I found camaraderie with women I knew and those whom I met for the first time.
In addition, the songs that were chosen were tributes to the power of hope, faith, and peace: Melanie DeMore’s song, “One Foot/Lead With Love” urges us to face our fears and live with hope. DeMore’s, “I Will Be Your Standing Stone” is a testament to the power of friendship. “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Grant Us Peace) and “Freedom is Coming” (a South African song) are calls to peace and justice.
A member of Womensing had composed music for a Rumi poem. The song was a lyrical manifestation of the night’s experience:
We are the night ocean filled
with glints of light. We are the space
between the fish and the moon,
while we sit here together
While singing is often considered entertainment, a passive enjoyment of someone else’s labors, there is a rich tradition of singing as community building: marches, protests, or religious services; all of which I have regularly participated in.
Last night’s experience was singing for the sheer pleasure of hearing my voice in unison with the voices of others. And when I arrived home, my exhaustion was gone. My body, mind, and spirit were synchronized through the power of song.
Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She directs the Goddard Graduate Institute in Plainfield, and is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (ruthfarmer.com).
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