I’ve been struck by how much music has featured in our response to Coronavirus. Whether it was Italians singing Volare from their balconies or Edinburgh residents belting out Sunshine on Leith in the early days of lockdown, the Sofa Singers or the Great British Home Chorus, collective music making has featured prominently since the start of the pandemic.
If you have listened to any of these choirs, it should have improved your wellbeing – listening to music is one of the most mood boosting things you can do.
The evidence on taking part in singing or music-making is that this has an even greater effect – we feel more positive after actively singing than we do after passively listening to music. It’s good for our physical and mental health, the top drivers of individual wellbeing. And it’s good for our relationships with others too.
There is particularly strong evidence for linking music to an improvement in wellbeing in three main groups:
- In healthy older people, singing – especially regular group singing – can maintain a sense of wellbeing which is good for morale and mental health-related quality of life and can also reduce loneliness, anxiety and depression. Engagement in music activities can also help older people to connect with their life experiences and be more stimulated.
- For young adults, there is strong evidence that listening to music can reduce stress, negative mood and anxiety.
- Structured music therapy can reduce the intensity of stress, anxiety and depression in pregnant women.
The Music Works, an organisation that helps young people in challenging circumstances by engaging them with music, knows from first hand experience the difference that it can make.
According to CEO Deborah Potts, who is also a member of the Centre’s Board: “Many young people miss out on making music – particularly those who could benefit the most, and we want to put that right.
“Engaging young people with music leads to improvements in creativity, self-belief, self-esteem and confidence. We see improved mental wellbeing, resilience and reduced negative behaviours, motivation to learn, higher aspirations and better school attendance.
“This in itself leads to long-term social change: improvements in employability, citizenship, and in some cases a reduced cost to society.”
Even before the pandemic, researchers were exploring how virtual singing experiences compared to coming together and singing in person.
With choirs ‘in real life’ now off the agenda for the foreseeable future and research looking at the safety of group singing ongoing, many have moved online. What has been the wellbeing impact of this?
There is promising evidence from UCL that singing as part of a virtual choir can still be wellbeing enhancing and have a role to play in supporting those who cannot engage in live experiences, such as people who are socially isolated.
When my local choir decided to move online in March, I decided to measure the wellbeing impact on members using the Centre’s Guide for Measuring your Wellbeing Impact. Overall, I found that despite not singing together in person, online rehearsals still delivered a positive experience for many singers.
- Many found the online sessions continued to inspire as a result of the music chosen and the work of the choir leader.
- Weekly rehearsals provided a focus for learning and purpose.
- There were practical advantages to online rehearsals – not having to travel and comfort of being at home.
- Rehearsals remained a shared experience. Initially the majority of singers described their reasons for being a member of the choir relating to a love of music and singing, however, the value of relationships and friendships formed was strongly evident seven weeks later.