This article was written for the September 2022 issue of our parish magazine. Here it is for you again:
I write this the day after returning home from a 9-day singing and conducting summer school with Sing for Pleasure. Based at Jesus College, Cambridge, it was utterly exhausting yet completely exhilarating. Work began at 8.45am last Sunday morning as we started learning Sarah Quartel’s “A Winter Day”, led by the SfP tutors. Sublime. That afternoon, as an Intermediate 2 conducting student, I was in the Advanced students’ choir whilst they taught us a set of 6 songs by Holst and Parry, and a set of renaissance motets by Sister Raffaella Aleotti. I also began teaching my movement (the Sanctus) of Haydn’s “Little Organ Mass” to the entire Intermediate 2 cohort and the Advanced students, to be accompanied by a chamber orchestra.
By Tuesday evening, the Quartel, Holst and Parry songs were ready for performance in the first formal concert of the week. This was followed by the first informal concert, in which various course participants performed their favourite party pieces for the entertainment of their peers.
Wednesday and Thursday were Renaissance days for the Intermediate 2 conductors, and I taught Passereau’s French madrigal “Il est Bel et Bon”. I also sang a variety of other renaissance polyphony taught by my peers, including “Cantate Domino”, “Sicut Cervus” and “Adieu Sweet Amaryllis”.
The Aleotti motets (highly challenging music!) were performed in the Thursday afternoon formal concert, the Haydn mass was performed in the Friday formal concert, and in Friday evening’s informal concert we were treated to an extraordinary range of music from Delibe’s “The Flower Duet” to Flo and Joan’s “Lady in the Woods”. I was in a group that sang the shanty “Pleasant and Delightful”, learned about 20 minutes before the concert started.
The final concert of the week was performed in the chapel of Trinity College Cambridge. The second half featured Handel’s four coronation anthems, composed for the coronation of George II (including “Zadok the Priest”), conducted by the Advanced students. I was in the orchestra. The sound was phenomenal.
There were over 120 singers and conducting students at summer school, and none of us knew any of the music in advance. We all embraced the opportunity to learn lots of new songs when we got there. There were four courses for conductors (Foundation, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2 and Advanced, and all conducting students are required to sing in choirs for other student conductors), and three courses for singers: On Broadway (songs from shows), Zimbe (songs from around Africa), and Consort (more challenging music for experienced choral singers).
Why am I telling you this? Because every single participant – conducting student or singer – left every concert absolutely buzzing, regardless of whether or not they had actually performed. Music, and singing in particular, does that.
There is so much research available that demonstrates singing to be beneficial to physical, mental and emotional health. Singing releases the endorphins oxytocin and dopamine – the “happy” hormones – in greater quantities than any other activity (except one… ahem..!). Learning new songs engages more areas of the brain than any other activity. It enhances the neuroplasticity of the brain, boosts our immune system, improves memory, fights illness, depression and strokes, and helps us manage pain. Have you heard about social prescribing? Singing is often prescribed to help manage symptoms for people living with dementia, Parkinson’s, or those with poor lung health. Daily singing in schools improves academic outcomes, because singing makes us happy, and happy children learn better. Similarly for workplace choirs – happy workers are more productive.
So sing. Every day. Sing in the shower, sing in the car, sing with friends, or sing on your own. But sing, and feel the benefits.