04 Sep 2017
Why joining a choir can be a fast track to feeling good and creating a sense of community.
With smartphones taking over our lives and many of us having more friends on social media than we do in real life, "we're now realising we need to do some detoxing from our digital world and come together to explore what it is to be human again," says Brett Weymark, Music Director of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.
For some people, that involves joining a book group, jogging with mates at lunchtime or doing volunteer work. Increasingly, though, it means signing up with a community choir and engaging in an innately human activity. "We're hardwired for singing," Weymark says.
The choir as a slice of society
More than ever, he says, there's a community choir for everyone.
"Choirs come together for a number of reasons, but two that stand out are either a love of a particular type of music – gospel, barbershop, Sixties pop music – or because you share a culture or philosophy. There might be the communist choir or the origami choir."
Bass chorister Warren Gough, a retired tertiary educator and member of the Philharmonia Choirs' Festival Chorus, has been singing in choirs since he was a boy.
"With the Festival Chorus, we're as diverse a group as you can get – PhD holders, judges, doctors, tradies, teachers – they're people I would never have met in normal circumstances, but we've built up quite a friendship."
And, says Weymark, a choir is one of society's great levellers: "Just because you're a CEO doesn't mean diddly squat when you get in that room – it's all about what you can contribute to the greater good."
Singing – the best medicine
Apart from the social benefits of singing together, research also points to it being good for our health.
"It energises the brain, literally sending electrical signals across every part of it," says Weymark. "And when singers sing together in a choir, their heartbeats start beating together at the same time."
It also triggers dopamine, "the happy drug". "One of my singers says it's a lot cheaper than going to the psychiatrist."
It's also a way of forgetting the day-to-day stresses, says Gough. "It's a complete break – you don't think about anything else. When it all comes together and it's all going well, it's quite an adrenaline rush as this massive machine pumps out an enormous sound."
And, says Weymark, "You don't have to be God's gift to singing to enjoy doing it in the company of other people."
The world in harmony
In fact, he reckons the world would be a better place if more of us joined a choir. "We'd see less civil unrest and more people helping each other, we'd have a more altruistic view of other people."
Hear the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs sing up a storm with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2018 – it may just inspire you to do more than exercise your tonsils in the shower.
Season Packages to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's 2018 season are now on sale. To experience the full power of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs attend Beethoven Nine by subscribing to Thursday Afternoon Symphony, Emirates Metro Series, Great Classics or add it to your Create Your Own pack.
Image: Keith Saunders