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Hospital Choirs Hit a High Note

One of the authors of a new study on the health benefits of singing has praised the HSE’s Staff Choir Project as a ‘step in the right direction’, with two hospital choirs confirming the positive impact it has on their physical, social and emotion wellbeing.

Tallaght Choir

Health benefits of singing

Hilary Moss, who helped research ‘Sing Yourself Better: the health and well-being benefits of singing’ with Jessica O’Donoghue and Julie Lynch at the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, said she hopes the findings of the study will encourage more funding for choirs within the workplace.

 “I decided to do a study of perceptions of people in choirs in Ireland and it just went viral — a pilot study grew legs due to the surprising number of respondents,” Hilary told the Irish Examiner Newspaper recently.

“It seemed that people were desperate to tell us how being in a choir impacts their health. I think people are convinced of the benefit and wanted to share it. We looked at the emotional connection, the social connection, the cognitive aspect of learning new songs, the physical aspect and the spiritual aspect of singing in a choir,” says Hilary.

“It’s hard to put a word on it but there seems to be some type of transcendence coming through in our research — it’s about being part of something bigger than themselves. Also people reported that taking part in the choir was a kind of mindful activity — there is very little research [elsewhere] but anecdotally there was a lot of evidence to support this idea.”

Tallaght Hospital and Scrubs Choir

Members of the Tallaght Hospital Choir and Scrubs choir from Cork University Hospital agreed that the choir has been a boost to morale in a very demanding workplace.

Terry Kiely, who is a founding member of the Scrubs choir, said, “The best thing about it is that everyone is on the same level once they come into Choir practice. Whether you’re a consultant or a porter, everyone has equal status.

A lot of the time, people don’t even know each other’s jobs outside of Choir – you’re just Soprano, Alto, Tenor or Bass when you’re in that room.

It’s a great way to de-stress. You may have had a tough day at work but five or 10 minutes in, it’s all melted away into the music.”

“I get a huge personal sense of satisfaction from organising the choir – making sure we’re entered for competitions, we have the money we need to do what we need and we get there and back. I feel happy that everyone else gets so much out of it.”

Scrubs, which consists of 30 to 40 members of staff, were even invited to enter Britain’s Got Talent last year and while they travelled to Birmingham, they didn’t make the live shows.

The choir at Tallaght Hospital has also enjoyed great success. It was formed back in 2013 for the inaugural Workplace Choir of the Year, a competition that it took first spot in.

Alison Baker Kerrigan, Programme Manager at the National Centre for Arts and Health at Tallaght Hospital, said, “Through facilitating the running of the choir and being a member of the choir myself, I have observed the benefits in singing. Singing in a choir most definitely promotes a general sense of wellbeing and happiness.

“For example, it would be understandable to think after a long day at work followed by attending a choir rehearsal for an hour and a half, people would leave exhausted, but not so.

Voices become more animated, there is laughter in the air and smiles on faces as choir members leave ‘together’, chatting and enjoying the social interaction.

“It is a wonderful way of clearing your headspace, being aware of controlling your breathing and encourages you to rehydrate! So that’s three items easily ticked off the daily agenda in looking after oneself. But more importantly, on the days that don’t go so well, meeting up with fellow choir members and singing with them is a great stress reliever.”

Singing and social capital

Eileen, a member of the Tallaght choir, said it is a total break from whatever may be going on in her life.

“Certainly singing with a choir has a very positive effect on me mentally. Most times I come away from the choir feeling better than when I came in. Also the social side of the choir like meeting new people and getting to know them etc. is another plus of being in a choir, especially a workplace choir.”

Her fellow choir member Joyce said she joined the choir to help with stress relief but found the breathing exercises and posture correction helped her too.

“I completely switch off from the stresses of the day and concentrate on the music,” she revealed. Aoileann, another Tallaght singer, added, “The pleasure of singing in a choir distracts my mind from stressful aspects of daily life. And it’s fun too.”