Singing and Happiness in a Virtual World

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happinesshormones

Back in the early years of this blog, I used a rubric from a Mind Gym book to analyse the ways in which group singing can make us happy. I was reminded of it recently when a friend shared a different analysis of dimensions of happiness, articulated in terms of hormones, their effects, and activities to promote them.

Now part of me was a bit suspicious about this. It smelled a little like one of those pseudoscientific things that extrapolate from biology to behaviour in a way that goes beyond the evidence. All those hormones exist for sure, but the term ‘hack’ may well be code for ‘oversimplification’.

Still, even if the chain from chemical to lifestyle is factitious, the four quadrants still represent a useful anatomy of satisfying experiences: reward, love, serenity, and relief from pain remain useful categories when planning our experiential objectives.

One of the things that leaps out from the kinds of examples for behaviours that facilitate these experiences is how they are more readily accessible in face-to-face choral settings than in virtual ones. We knew that already of course, but the graphic really pinpoints where the gaps are. Touch may not be central to choral activities, but it is integral to the social contexts in which they occur in real life. And the immersion in a sonic bath that we so took for granted as the default mode of choral experience sits very firmly in the meditative collection of mood-regulators.

At the same time as measuring the details of our loss, though, these categories provide some focused help on what remains to us in remote rehearsals as means to generate well-being.

We still have ample opportunity for completing tasks and achieving goals. We often think of these in the big-picture sense of recording projects or new repertoire learned, but the week-in, week-out detail of intervention-recognition cycles is what creates the fabric of the lived experience. The chance to try something, mess it up, and then do it again better is something we can provide very richly.

Of course, we can’t provide it in the same way we would in a normal rehearsal. The thing that directors talk about missing the most is the opportunity to hear how people are getting on and help them improve, and if your rehearsal is primarily based on people singing on mute along to recordings as a means to recreate the musical experience of choir, then it is this dimension that gets lost. Small group work, pair-work, duetting-coaching, and one-to-one tuition, whilst not offering that sonic fix, offer frequent and gratifying opportunities to feel good about doing things incrementally better.

Love and connection in the graphic is mostly exemplified by physical contact, but the last item reminds us that we can express and receive care by other means too. If your rehearsal style wasn’t hitherto based heavily on telling people what they’ve just done well, now is an excellent time to develop your Paying Compliments with Fascinating Rhythm. And of course singing to each other is itself a very primal form of human connection. The trust it takes to do this as individuals online carries very powerful signals of connection, and the sound itself speaks to the heart – which is why we do this of course. Arguably the vulnerability of the virtual rehearsal amplifies the effect of human connection encoded in song.

Laughter, like compliments, is readily available online. On my comedy course all those years ago, we’d do exercises that involved watching videos of stand-ups and counting the laughs. Not a bad exercise to measure the health of a choir too it occurs to me.

Contemplating this graphic has made me realise that it’s the meditative quadrant in the lower left that I’ve not really explored in my own remote rehearsals. We’ve kept the focus on being pacey, offering variety and engaging activities to counter the distancing and flattening of experience inherent in the technology. I’m sure the regularity of our warm-ups, especially those that focus on breath, will have been making a contribution here, but it’s the primary area I need to give more thought to I feel.

So, pseudoscientific or not, this has proved a useful little meme for me as it has helped me identify a way that I may serve my choir better.

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