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Discover the value of singing and see the heart and lungs in action

14 May 2018

Discover the value of singing and see the heart and lungs in action

Over 400 years ago the renowned Elizabethan composer, William Byrd, wrote in his preface for the first great English Songbook, a list of reasons to "persuade everyone to sing".

Some of these reasons included what he perceived to be the health benefits of singing. Now, over 400 years later, research by Canterbury Christ Church University's Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, will scientifically demonstrate how Byrd's thoughts on singing were centuries ahead of our understanding of the physical benefits of singing.

During live performances, electronic equipment will be attached to singers to give us a unique insight into how communal singing has the potential to benefit both physical and mental wellbeing. It will show what happens to the hearts and lungs of singers; demonstrating how the hearts begin to beat in sync and how lung capacity and breathing improves.

The performances are part of a unique event to be hosted by the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), in partnership with Professor Stephen Clift, Director of the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, and fellow academics from the University of York and the University of Kent.

Professor Clift has led numerous research projects which have demonstrated a connection between arts and wellbeing, especially the value and positive physical and mental impact group singing can have upon participants.

He said: "It's an intriguing concept that over 400 years ago the composer William Byrd believed that singing had the potential to provide physical and emotional benefits. The research we have been conducting at the centre has proven that there are benefits to group singing and clearly vindicate his thoughts. So we are delighted to be joining up with NCEM and other colleagues to show, through the use of new technology the real time evidence of what happens to the heart and lungs and the implications that can have upon wellbeing.

"The performers will be wearing heart monitors, with the heartbeat patterns displayed onto screens. As they progress through their performance the patterns will start synchronise. The manifestation of this unconscious syncronisation of heartbeats signals a bonding of the group of singers which has shown to help calm people, make them less anxious, feel less isolated and sop help with their emotional wellbeing."

The second performance at the Singing for Health Conference will show how the lungs inflate and deflate whilst singing, with performers wearing t-shirts with grid patterns projected from a light onto their chests.

Professor Clift explained: "This technique is called structured light plethysmography. As they sing the movements on the grid are recorded, measured and processed to form information on lung function, showing how the chest cavity moves and how deeply someone breaths. This information is then turned into reporting charts and displayed onto screens. This technique is useful in our research as we can measure over time the effects singing can have upon lung function, and for people with lung disease such as COPD, it can show the positive impact singing has had upon strengthening lung function."

Over the past year, the NCEM has also been offering a community engagement wellbeing programme in York, called Cuppa & a Chorus. Following discussions with Professor Clift, the NCEM, supported by The City of York Council, launched the programme as part of Culture and Wellbeing in York. A pilot project of six initial sessions showed positive results, with significant increases recorded in the level of positivity experienced by those taking part and continues to enjoy success, helping to promote the physical and emotional benefits of singing to the city.

Dr Delma Tomlin, Director of the NCEM, said: "Our Cuppa & a Chorus programme has achieved wonderful results for people within our local communities. Programmes such as this are part of an ever growing, and important, commitment that arts organisations are demonstrating to supporting public wellbeing through arts and culture. This is why we are delighted to be working once again with Professor Clift and other academic colleagues from the University of York and the University of Kent to host this unique one day event to show the amazing benefits of singing.

"The NCEM is also the national advocate of early music, believing that the study of music from centuries ago can give us a fascinating insight into our cultural and social history. So we are excited to be able to offer this opportunity to not only explore the thoughts of Elizabethan composer William Byrd, but also show through modern technology just how accurate his thoughts on the value of singing were from 400 years ago."

The Singing for Health Conference, takes place on Thursday, 7 June 2018 (10am - 4pm) at the National Centre for Early Music, York. For more information or to book your place visit here .  

Notes to editors

Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health
The centre is committed to researching the potential value of music, and other participative arts activities, in the promotion of wellbeing and health of individuals and communities, and continues to build the case for Singing on Prescription.

The centre's research has shown that group singing has positive benefits for people with enduring mental health issues and people with COPD.

The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM)
The NCEM is an educational music charity based in St Margaret's, a medieval converted church in the heart of York. The church was restored and converted into the NCEM in 2000, winning a variety of major conservation awards. The NCEM promotes St Margaret's as a significant venue for music and creative learning, embracing over 100 folk, jazz, digital and contemporary music concerts.

The NCEM is the national advocate of early music in England, providing experiences and opportunities of the highest quality to an ever widening and diversified community, running an ambitious national programme including the prestigious York Early Music Festival, the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival and the York Early Music Christmas Festival. The NCEM has partnerships with festivals and conservatoires across Europe designed to support emerging early music ensembles and boasts two major competitions, which encourage talented young composers and gifted early music specialists - the NCEM Composers Award and the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition. These major events attract national and international interest and are supported by BBC Radio 3 and some of the finest musicians in the world.

Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University is a dynamic and innovative university, supporting all students to gain an outstanding education and enjoy an excellent student experience.

It is actively involved in public life, from its role in influencing national policy and practice to addressing real-world challenges through teaching and research.

96% of the University's most recent UK undergraduates and 98% of postgraduates were in employment or study six months after completing their studies (includes full-time and part-time); higher than the national average, 9 out of 10 of employed graduates are also in graduate-level jobs three-and-a-half years after finishing their studies.

It is a multi-campus university with 16,200 students studying a wide range of courses across Kent and Medway, with graduates teaching in schools, providing health and social care in the community, helping businesses to flourish and injecting talent into creative industries.

It received a Silver rating for teaching excellence in 2017, a significant national endorsement of its high-quality and transformative education and is investing significantly in the student experience for future generations. This includes a £150 million campus development to support curriculum expansion in engineering and technology, and a new arts building to promote careers in the creative industries.

Media contact
Jeanette Earl
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01227 922391