Sing For Health

By Margaret Growcott


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The Barkley Sound Community Choir in Port Alberni is now in its ninth year, and remarkably, members say emphatically that they feel younger and healthier than when they first joined. A wild claim, but the health benefits of singing should not be underestimated.

Composed primarily of seniors and boomers, the 50-member choir has some health-challenged participants and most of them find that singing makes them feel better.

Good singing requires controlled breathing, and this comes with help from conductor Bonnie Wallbank. She runs the choir through a whole gamut of voice contortions as a warm-up to each rehearsal, testimony to the fact that voices, like bodies, need to limber up. 

Exercising their vocal chords properly has helped people who suffer from various breathing disorders. Singing has definite physical benefits.

A case in point, I was told at the hospital, while having abdominal surgery, that there was a problem with my lungs. I was given a breathing exercise device and told to practise deep breaths every day, until I could hold the plastic bobble for up to a count of eight to 10 seconds. This proved to be impossible for me, for as much as I practised, I could never hold beyond four seconds. Leaving hospital care after five days, nursing my abdominal incision, I was more concerned with the state of my lungs. But the breathing exercise gadget was boring. It had more appeal to a friend's grandchild who wanted to try elevating the colourful bobble when he blew into the tube. Of course, he was told this was not a toy and it was put to the back of a closet. Shortly after my hospital stay, I joined the Barclay Sound Choir and, a year later, with the controlled breathing that is required for singing, my lung condition has vastly improved.  A-ha! Doctors thought it was the bobble apparatus they had insisted I use that made the difference. But it's still at the back of the closet. I know it was the singing and proper breath control that has strengthened my lungs.

Choir Founder Sylvia Springer says, "As well as singing, there is a lot of laughter and by the end of the rehearsal I feel more energized than I did at the beginning." Retired nurse, Mary Booker, agrees. "Yes, there is certainly a feeling of well-being during and after rehearsals. The act of singing releases endorphins." 

Tenor Pieter Vliegenthart supports this concept. "Sometimes, on the winter evenings, I find it an effort to get out to rehearsals, but once I am there I am hooked into my singing and, by the end of the evening, I feel rejuvenated.  Knowing this, it takes a lot to keep me away."

Many well-known singers have endorsed the theory of endorphins, saying they reduce stress and relieve pain. Singing is also known to increase oxygen to the blood system and improve posture and balance. 

Healing and energizing powers of music aside, there is another kind of healing, which is helped along by music. In particular, singing works wonders with bereavement. Choir conductor Bonnie Wallbank will attest to this, as many years ago in Alberta, when her first husband was tragically killed in a trucking accident, Bonnie discovered, "Music was the thing that helped me most through my grief." She sang in a choir and also spent hours at her piano, playing, and composing songs, instilling in her three young children the power and therapeutic significance of music.

The Barkley Sound Community Choir certainly lives up to its name, entertaining regularly around the city of Port Alberni. They sing at two annual choral festivals and for special events like the Peace Walk on New Year's Day and the opening ceremonies of the B.C. Winter Games. Every year, the choir has a major Christmas concert combined with Phil's Harmonics String Orchestra as well as their own concert in May. These performances are usually sold out, another reason for members to feel good about their efforts.

So, whether you sing in the shower or in the church choir, don't forget to breathe deeply and set those endorphins flying.

SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND - May 2009

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