Why singing in a choir brings me joy - Chris Lee

Submitted by huw on Mon, 05/13/2024 - 12:07
4 birds singing

When author Oliver Burkeman talks about his experience of singing in a community choir he notes “the boundaries of the self grow fuzzy, and time seems not to exist’. This is what I understand by the term ‘being in a state of flow’ – something I most often experience when woodworking. It got me thinking about my own experience of singing with the Royston Choral Society for nearly 25 years. For much of that time, I’ve been pleased to have made the effort to attend each weekly rehearsal, and science tells us why.

Stacy Horn - a self-proclaimed poor choral singer - has identified a cocktail of health-giving chemical stimulants associated with singing with others. “Music is awash with neurochemical rewards for working up the courage to sing. That rush, or ‘singer’s high’, comes in part through a surge of endorphins, which at the same time alleviate pain. When the voices of the singers surrounding me hit my ear, I’m bathed in dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with feelings of pleasure and alertness. Music lowers cortisol, a chemical that signals levels of stress... and also releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment.”

The all-consuming demands of singing – listening to my own and other voices, watching the conductor, reading the music, and listening to the accompaniment – demands focus. Singing is a very mindful activity and, yes, for the best part of each rehearsal, for me as well as Oliver Burkeman, time does not seem to exist.

Early on in my time with the choir I was asked why I liked to sing with others and I replied “The buzz I get when it all comes together in harmony makes all the effort worthwhile”. 25 years later I still get that buzz.

Further reading on singing in a choir