Mood music: How one-of-a-kind choir brings harmony for mental health
We all know you can sing the blues, but now one special choir is giving the style its own take – as it plans to sing the blues away.
Choir master Dan McDwyer and arts organisation TripleC* are leading a call – backed by the city’s health and social care chiefs – to start a Manchester choir for people with mental health issues.
The choir will be unique: it will be a safe way for people to join in with a group activity with proven wellbeing benefits; plus it will also come with on-hand psychological support to signpost people to further services if needed.
It starts this week – and the message is that anyone who has had or still has a mental health condition is welcome to join at the Bridgewater Hall, on Wednesday (March 7) – and no previous singing experience is needed.
Dan McDwyer, who also worked with the Parrswood Choir who sang with Ariana Grande at the One Love Concert, held after the Manchester Arena attack, said: “Music can be such a powerful channel for emotions – and singing with one voice brings a sense of unity to everyone who takes part.
“The music will contemporary and modern – and that upbeat feel sums up the project and its aspirations.”
Psychologist Elaine Craig, who will also be at the weekly events, is keen to stress the proactive benefits of the choir.
“There are so many benefits for people, with joining with a group activity,” she says. “It stops isolation and by singing with one voice, there is a real element of team work and working towards a single goal. This isn’t going to be a choir that defines people by their mental health condition – it will be a safe place where people can have fun.
“There’s a lot of growing evidence about the psychological and neurological effects of singing. Singing on your own releases the brain’s ‘happy’ chemicals – called endorphins. But, when you sing in a choir, you also release the ‘love’ chemical oxytocin, from the connection with being part of a team and the wider world in general.”
The results of the choir will also be evaluated by wellbeing questionnaires before and after performances, for those people who give their permission to do so.
The new choir has also been supported by the city’s health and social care leaders – as it demonstrates the long-term vision for Manchester, where more emphasis will be placed on earlier, proactive support that that can involve the strengths and expertise in our own neighbourhoods, to stop people becoming ill in the first place.
This new focus of working is outlined in the city’s Locality Plan called a Healthier Manchester. This is a ‘blue-print’ for outlining the future of health and social care – including the start of the city’s Local Care Organisation in April, which will focus on bringing more care into communities and out of hospital wherever possible.
And, the Manchester choir is already an example of this holistic approach. The Bridgewater Hall is not charging for the performance space; Manchester Health and Care Commissioning ** are looking at ways to support the scheme; and Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council has also invited the choir to either perform at the annual meeting of the Council in May.
Councillor Bev Craig, Executive Member for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Manchester City Council, said: “The choir is not only a way of giving people the space and expression for a hobby, but it’s also an incredibly positive way of reminding everyone that should be no stigma attached to mental health conditions. And, if being able to connect through music and song then gives a further platform to develop people’s confidence, it is something that we should – and must – all welcome.”
- The choir sessions start on Wednesday (7 March).People are asked to meet at 6:30pm at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester to start the session from 7:00pm to 8:30pm If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- * The choir has been created by TripleC, a collective of disabled and non-disabled people, which includes the Coronation Street Actress Cherylee Houston as one of its co-founders. The group is focused on changing access to the arts for the next generation.
- ** Manchester Health and Care Commissioning is a partnership arrangement between Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group and Manchester City Council.
The evidence: Singing and the feel-good factor
The positive side of singing in a group or choir includes better mood regulation and improved self-esteem (Dingle, et al, 2012).
A study including 573 papers exploring the benefits of group singing on health-related issues found improvement for anxiety, depression and mood disorders (Reagon, et al, 2017)
A choir of 62 people with chronic mental health problems reported a decrease in negative emotions after choir practise that lasted well into the evening (Dingle, 2017)