Why children need to sing!

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The power of a children's choir!

My first recollection of ‘singing as an ensemble’ was sitting down in a hall rehearsing the same hymns every week, the piano player was the corner taking assembly as it was just ‘part of the curriculum.’ A school full of children apathetic about collective singing caused by an unenthused teacher.  

What that unenthused teacher didn’t realise is that good children’s choirs provide lifelong happy memories and a whole host of skills that help us develop into well-rounded individuals.  

My love of playing musical instruments that got me singing in a choir in secondary school. The freedom to experiment, the enthusiasm of my teachers and peers. I can still remember those feelings of anticipation, excitement, but also acceptance while performing at Christmas concerts, the joy of singing in care homes and roasting in the sun at summer fetes. 

With the decline in music as a subject and being an extra-curricular activity in school, is there an argument to keep them going? After all, what is the benefit in singing if you’re not at ‘expected’ in Maths and Literacy?  

The vocal sound is one of the first things we experience, even in the womb, we hear our mother’s voice and experience many different sounds, including different styles of music. As babies become toddlers, we play toddlers music with repetition as it helps with their language, memorising words, we let them experiment with different percussive instruments to help them find the rhythm. By the time children get to reception, they purely like to sing and have no self-consciousness or anxiety about letting you hear them hear their voice.  

As children get older, there are many opportunities for group singing within other subjects, for example: counting songs, remembering sequences, learning languages, helping spellings. It is often the teacher’s lack of musical training and their self-consciousness that means it’s overlooked. Unless there is a member of staff within school who has a genuine love of music or an outside agency is brought in, then children’s choirs go under the radar.  

I was brought into my last school to expand their music curriculum and develop more musical extracurricular activities within a socially deprived area. My first singing assembly was a battle of wills; children were embarrassed to sing; they didn’t want to express themselves as they had forgotten how to. 

My love of music soon started to influence them, and they could see I was completely confident in my voice and, yes, I made mistakes, but I laughed through them as who doesn’t? Children started to become more confident, I got children moving to the music, and they began to enjoy singing assembly (including the boys!).  

The choir increased in numbers over the years, we performed in the local community, in secondary schools, Elderly Care Homes, the Symphony Hall and even the Barbican in London. I will never forget the happiness and confidence that they continued to build after every performance. I left that school after a few years with a waiting list of children to join choir who loved music.  

The physical, social and emotion effects of a children’s choir 

A 2016 study at the USC  Brain and Creativity Institute  found that musical experiences in childhood can accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition, communication, and reading skills. When we look at brain development in singing it is often 

noted that singers have more significant connections between language, fine motor skills and emotion than non-singers. We understand that different sides of the brain deliver different functions, language comes from the right side of the brain whereas singing, including tempo and rhythm, come from the left side of the brain. It means that when we are singing neither side of the brain is said to be ‘dominant’, something that many other tasks are incapable of doing. 

An MRI of the brain during singing: 

Renée Fleming: What goes on in the brain of a world-class singer? 

 There has recently been a significant focus on our mental health, and we can rarely go through any news story about lifestyle without it mentioning “wellbeing”, especially with children and the pressures of exam stress. 1 in 9 children are now said to have clinically diagnosed mental disorder and 50% of all mental disorders emerge before the age of 14. It’s proven that singing elevates children’s  happiness and wellbeing, with the brain releasing endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. It relieves stress and reduces aggression in young children. Despite these chemical releases, it is not just the physical act of singing that can make you happy.   

Singing with a group of other people (no matter what age) exercises the part of our brain controlling human empathy and interaction, it forms excellent relationships and positive experiences. Research has found that people have a more positive feeling after actively singing, being part of a choir rather than passively singing on their own.  

However, being part of a choir has a physical, as well as a mental benefit to children. In a Hot House ensemble rehearsal, we start with a physical warm-up, and the physical warm-up is just as crucial as the vocal. Gross and fine motor skills are essential in childhood and adolescent development, as these are the times that the seeds of effective communication are implanted and nurtured. 

Active singing helps with our posture, our breathing control and with that the way the body functions. With the amount of screen time involved with our everyday lives, increasing amounts of children are getting back and neck problems, nicknamed “text neck”.  

In a choir, there is a strong focus on posture as it allows us to use the muscles involved in breathing in an advantageous way to our body. The major muscle groups exercised, we stand tall, which eliminates the head putting added pressure on our back. Once we learn how to breathe correctly (which is also a warm-up focus) we deliver more oxygen into our lungs, it travels around our body and helps cognitive function. It relieves stress and the improvements to airflow even help prevent common colds and flu!  

I hope with the increase in love for the arts during this challenging time that it will be positive for the children’s choir. Once they go back to school, help them make positive memories and lasting friendships. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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