Tag Archives: making friends

Why Singing and Dancing Promote Social Skills and Friendship

singing kidsResearch has shown that singing increases happiness and emotional well-being.  People feel happier after singing than simply listening to music, probably due to the release of neurochemicals in the brain.

It isn’t news to me that singing lifts your mood.  The quiet teenager that would skip along the road after my weekly singing lesson, head held high and ready to conquer the world is testament to that. When I sang I came alive, through singing I could truly let go. I grew up loving musicals, perhaps because it is perfectly acceptable to sing and dance down the road in a musical and everyone is always happy.

Singing as a group has additional benefits, according to recent research from Oxford University.    Singing in a group encourages social bonding, and singing groups form friendships more quickly than in other group activities. Group dancing also produces similar results, suggesting that a shared musical experience and working together are key factors.  Many of my closest friends were made during my musical theatre days and joining choir was the perfect way to meet people and make friends, when moving to a new country.  A large proportion of the ladies in my choir joined because they were new to the area and wanted to meet new people, whilst sharing their passion for singing. Perhaps if we mix in a little dance we will be even closer?

Singing is a natural way for parents to bond with babies .  As a singer, I instinctively sang to my newborn babies when I was alone with them for the first time.  Often a parent will get their first reactions from a baby when they sing to them. Smiles, laughter, calming, eye contact or gesture can all be encouraged through singing.

When my eldest was born, I felt privileged that as an early education teacher, I  knew lots of songs to share with my baby. With this in mind, I started a baby music group with my antenatal group. My aim was to reach out to others and introduce them to songs that they could share with their babies.  With hindsight, this not only helped the babies but also gave this group of new mothers the chance to socialise, at one of the most vulnerable times of their life. As new mothers singing to their babies, it didn’t matter if they felt they ‘couldn’t sing’  and we quickly built strong friendships.

Group singing was an important part of my teaching day and something I was very comfortable leading.  This confidence wasn’t shared by all the teachers but some approached singing time with enthusiasm and energy, even if they believed their own singing voices to be terrible. The children responded to the teachers who could have fun and draw them in, musical proficiency was never a factor. Singing in a group is a fundamental part of many preschool settings and is one of the ways in which children learn to work together. In order to create a unified sound the children have to listen to one another and share in the experience together.

Young children are instinctively drawn to music and dance and sing without restraint. This usually remains with them until the age at which they become self-conscious and concerned about whether they are good enough. Reluctance to sing may also arise as singing becomes  performance focused rather than purely for pleasure.

One of my favourite memories of Christmas time, was the year my great aunts came to visit my grandparents. The sisters sat around the keyboard as my Auntie played and we all sang for hours.  That family togetherness is difficult to replicate in other situations. My great aunts grew up in the era before television, when singing around the piano was part of everyday life.  I believe that it is important for children to see that singing (and dancing) isn’t about winning a talent show.  Sing along to the radio on car journeys, make up silly songs or fire up some karaoke videos and sing along.

When we have friends around it nearly always ends up with a round of karaoke and it has paved the way to some of the best parties. I love that young and old, singers and non-singers join in and it is always accompanied by laughter and friendship.singing

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Choir is Not for Geeks

When I was young, Musical Theatre was my life. While my friends spent their Saturday afternoons choosing lipstick in Woolworths, I was rehearsing for my next show. When my job sent me into a frenzy of boredom, the excitement of finding out which show we would do next and what part I would play  kept me going.  My husband and I met doing Musical Theatre together and we had a huge network of theatre friends. Now that family life has taken over those days are long gone but I miss it.

It took me a long time to realise that my voice didn’t always need to be the one that stood out in a group and that I could enjoy singing even if I wasn’t a soloist. Once I encountered the sheer pleasure of singing in a perfectly blended chorus, I realised what I had been missing. The end of Act One chorus from ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, the nuns Gaudeamus from ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Requiem for Evita’ all send shivers down my spine as I remember the moment I sang them on stage.

Even though singing was my hobby, I never sang at school.  The only avenue for singing at school was choir but choir was for geeks. My perception of choir was of singing ‘boring hymns’ probably because church was the only place I had encountered a choir.   As I grew older my perceptions changed but I still felt choir wasn’t my thing.

I tried to continue with theatre once I had children but the weekend rehearsals, complicated schedule of babysitters and the week of the show nearly killed me. So now I have broken the mould and joined a choir. Choir is so much simpler, I no longer have to stand at the back of the stage silently oohing and ahhing, I don’t have to learn dance moves (or sing in the wings with the old people because my dancing isn’t good enough),I don’t even have to learn the words because we carry our music with us.

My perception has changed about the people too. Recently we went on a weekend choir retreat – a large group of women in one house, singing, eating, drinking and getting to know one another.  I was quite excited about making new friends but being in new company isn’t my strength, so was also a little nervous.  The choir is very diverse, there is a huge mix of ages, nationalities, cultures and backgrounds but without exception each member sees choir as their ‘thing’, their chance to be themselves for one evening a week. Fuelled with the euphoria of a whole day of singing, ocean views, relaxing in hot tubs and a few glasses of wine, we began to get to know one another.  There is something extraordinarily powerful about getting people together in one place away from their ordinary lives. I used to feel it on my annual blogging conference weekends in London, the connection with like-minded people and the sense of relief that we all have the same insecurities.

I felt a connection with every woman on the retreat, many of whom were very different to me. It made me wonder about judging people by appearances; often people who we perceive to be ‘not our type’ based on appearance, become our closest friends.  The openness  of the choir members was refreshing and sent me home with the feeling that it is ok to be imperfect. All of the women talked of their very different and complicated lives and for a brief moment we were able to leave them behind.

In the modern world there is an immense amount of pressure to be perfect. When everyone admits that they are not it’s like you’ve been set free. Nobody is a perfect, wife, mother, career woman, friend, cook, housekeeper or icon of beauty and on the whole nobody expects you to be either. The pressure to be flawless comes from within.

I returned from the retreat with a new perspective, with a belief that it is okay to be flawed, we are all flawed, people like me for who I am and I like them more because of, not in spite of their imperfections.