It’s choirs’ social environment that enhances the already positive effects of singing, says Katey Warran, a research fellow in social science at University College London. Warran coordinated Sing With Us and studies how arts interventions affect health outcomes. Singing is calming, which produces physiological benefits, but joining a singing group is also about making “meaningful” relationships, Warran says.
After rehearsals, some of the singers provided a saliva sample to researchers examining whether singing affected their health and mood — and it did, positively. The “Sing With Us” study, which enrolled Hardy and 192 others, is part of a growing body of research that points to the physical and mental health benefits of singing with others. Sing With Us linked singing in the choir to reduced stress hormones and increased cytokines, proteins that can boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.
Building Social Bonds, Collective Joy
Singing groups such as choirs support the “total growth of the human being,” says Stanley Thurston, who founded the Heritage Signature Chorale in D.C. to preserve African American choral music and serves as its artistic director. Although many choirs in the United States operate out of churches, plenty of others are community based, including Heritage.
Choirs are large families, he says, and singing in them promotes social bonding, which contributes to a sense of belonging and joy. Research bears this out: Studies have found that group singing fosters trust, cooperation and social cohesion.
But choirs and singing have also been associated with the spread of the coronavirus during the pandemic, although at least one study has raised questions about this. These days, many have scaled back covid protocols such as requiring masks at all rehearsals but still ask singers to monitor their health and stay home with a sore throat, fever, congestion or excessive coughing.
Other ensembles now offer virtual rehearsal options. It’s a new world, and “trying to keep everyone healthy” is part of a choir director’s job, Thurston says.
In the United States, choir singing has not fully regained its pre-pandemic popularity, says Liza W. Beth, vice president of communications and membership for Chorus America, an advocacy organization. But in 2019, some 54 million Americans sang in choirs, and those who did were found to be more optimistic, more likely to vote, less lonely, possessed stronger relationships and were more likely to contribute positively to their communities than non-singers.