UK study finds that choristers feel warmer about their teams than footballers.

Anyone who has sung in a choir will tell you that not only is it a great way to meet people, it’s also a great deal of fun. But now a recent study in the UK has found that people singing in choirs report significantly higher psychological well-being than solo singers. Not only that, it turns out that choristers feel their choirs to be more meaningful social groups than, for example, footie players consider their teams.

Brett Weymark, Music Director of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs concurs, citing a wide range of repertoire available as one of the reasons choral singers might find more fulfilment than soloists. But in the end, he says, it is all about other people: “as a chorister, it is always about the people you are singing with – singing in a choir is actually about bringing people together, creating a sense of community with music as raison d’être.”

Richard Gill, the new Chief Conductor of Sydney Chamber Choir, describes the particular pleasures of singing as a group: “Good choral singing requires, at the very least, a number of skills involving heightened listening abilities, very strong rhythmic and melodic skills along with a capacity to balance chords and blend sounds. When this all comes together the sense of achievement and musical satisfaction is enormous. Choristers will tell you exactly how they feel when they get high from singing.”

While previous research has suggested that singing in a choir might be beneficial for mental health, this study compared choral singing to two other leisure activities: solo singing and playing a team sport. It used measures of self-reported well-being from 375 participants and the results – which also found that team sport players had higher psychological well-being than the solo singers – may be interpreted to suggest that belonging to a group may be a more important psychological factor than the singing itself.

The study’s findings are exemplified in Weymark’s own experience, having performed Handel’s Messiah as a conductor, a tenor soloist and as part of the chorus: “Singing it as a chorister gave me my greatest sense of pleasure. I had the chance to experience every changing mood of the work whereas as a soloist there are huge sections of the work you are not involved in. Furthermore, you arrive often towards the end of the rehearsal period and it can be harder to make those connections, whereas the choir has been working together often for many weeks to collectively arrive at a unified interpretation.”

Neither Weymark or Gill were surprised to hear that choir members feel more team spirited than footie players. According to Weymark, “choir members are constantly striving for beauty in their sound and meaning in their interpretation. This can only be done through listening to each other and trust in your other choristers. It is not about scoring points or winning a game. Often in choirs you have a wide range of vocal timbres all singing the same line and it is the collective that the audience hears not the individual and that end result requires almost miraculous teamwork. Many artists all working on the same canvas hoping the finished painting will look like the work of only one hand, not several.”

“The sense of togetherness is very powerful,” says Gill, “We recently spent considerable time organising parts, working on uniformity of vowels and mouth shape and this had a tremendous impact on the sound which really excited the choristers. They can hear the difference and get an immediate buzz from the work being done. Music happens in time, generally with an ensemble which moves very little while it is performing and tends to have one clear musical intention. Sporting teams appear to have different aims and special sets of strategies to achieve these aims. A choir is a totally unified machine moving relentlessly towards a musical conclusion, at the same unified rate. We are all on the same page, the same bar, the same chord, at the same time… I hope!”

Although he has never played in a football team (he has conducted a footie choir), Weymark can relate to the deep sense of community felt by those in choirs. “The closest people in my life are those with whom I have sung either in choirs or onstage for the simple reason that we have all shared that sense of terror and enjoyment that performing gives.”


Brett Weymark and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs will be performing Mozart Requiem at 2pm on Saturday March 26 at the Sydney Opera House.

Tickets

Richard Gill and the Sydney Chamber Choir will be performing Carmina Burana at 7:30pm on Saturday March 19 at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney.

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