National Centre for Early Music

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Come and Sing a Rainbow! Saturday 30 January 2016

For thousands of years, and across a diversity of cultures, people have been singing as part of daily life. The urge to sing is a part of human nature and, increasingly, its physical and mental health benefits are being recognised and understood. Singing is a social activity, which distracts the mind from daily stresses and offers a positive focus. It encourages deep and supported breathing, filling the body with oxygen - the essential fuel to help cells stay alive and carry out their jobs. It also offers opportunities to learn, listen and develop a deeper awareness of sound.
On Saturday 30 January 2016, the National Centre for Early Music delivered two, sold-out 'Come & Sing' workshops, aimed at anyone wanting to enjoy the positive effects of social singing. The events were led by Grammy nominated singer Vivien Ellis, who performs with several folk and early music groups, is an experienced teacher and leader of singing groups, and is a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners Network. Vivien enjoys creating a friendly space, where people relax, have fun and get in touch with their own, personal voice. Vivien also has research interests in the area of Arts on Prescription for mental health and well-being and has this to say about social singing: "As a professional singer I've noticed for myself, friends and family the benefits that singing brings for health and wellbeing. Singing in a group lifts my spirits like nothing else, reduces stress and loneliness, and promotes well-being. There are now more choirs in the UK than fish and chip shops, and the spate of TV programmes about choral singing shows that we like to sing in groups because it makes us feel better".

The two 'Come & Sing' sessions, held as part of York Residents Festival 2016, brought together 61 adults and young people, to unite in song, movement, craft and creativity. Focusing on communal part-singing, the workshops were filled with diverse songs from a variety of global traditions, and all was learnt without reference to notation or any assumption of prior experience. There were also opportunities for participants to develop their own music and art, in response to the theme of home - creating cut-out handprint 'leaves', finding words associated with home and writing them on the leaves, drawing the words together into music, and performing the resulting, brand-new compositions.

Participants were also asked to reflect on mood and wellbeing as part of this workshop. Each person was asked to choose one word and one colour (from the Manchester Colour Wheel, developed by Professor Peter Whorwell and Dr Helen Carruthers) to describe their mood before the workshop, and then again afterwards, in order to track the effect of communal singing activity on feelings and emotions. The impact, demonstrated by the 'before' and 'after' wordclouds below, appears to have been profound for many!

Before the workshop, this is how participants were feeling:

And this is how they felt afterwards!