I am not going to claim that singing in a choir will bring you back from deep despair. It will not mend your broken heart. But I whole-heartedly believe that choir is a very good thing and it nurtures our mental health.
In many small ways, choir helps our mental health, starting with the physical body. Breathing more deeply and taking some gentle exercise are always recommended. (As is spending time outside, so we can help there – at the moment!)
We know anecdotally that our singers say, “I need choir for my mental health”, or “I think choir should be available on the NHS,” but there is plenty of solid psychological research that supports this view.
Self-determination is a concept which is important for psychological growth – it’s about being able to make your own choices and feel in control of your life. According to self-determination theory, what people need to be motivated is a simple ABC. The three things that inspire people to do things are Autonomy, Belonging and Competence.
I know, long words. What they mean is not too complicated, though. Autonomy means the feeling that you are choosing to do something, and that thing makes a difference. You choose to open your mouth and sing, and the sound of the choir is transformed. How you sing is up to you – loudly, sweetly, in an Irish accent – and your effect on the whole sound is audible. Without your contribution, the sound is diminished.
Belonging is a more straightforward word. It is really important for human beings to feel that they are part of something bigger. We all need to feel connected to others. When we are bound together with other people in a shared endeavour, a shared work of art like a choir song, we feel close to the singers nearby even if we’ve never had a conversation with them.
Competence means knowing how to do stuff. We feel safe with people who are good at what they do. Learning to do things better gives us self-esteem. When we start learning a song in choir and you think, I’m never going to learn that, and then you do, it feels good. Developing new skills makes us feel powerful.
If, as a leader, I can help you feel these three things – autonomy, belonging and competence – I will be doing something right in my job. You don’t need to label them in this way, I’m just making a connection with an established psychological theory.
All that our singers need to know is that
You Can Sing
Your Singing Matters