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November 5, 2004

Singing gets mind, body in harmony

San Francisco Chronicle:

A number of recently released international studies have found that singing in harmony promotes mental and physical well-being by reducing stress, strengthening the immune system and elevating mood. The studies, conducted in Germany, Australia and San Francisco, also credit group singing with boosting concentration, fighting infection and helping seniors have fewer accidents and require less medication.

A cappella music, the singing of songs without instruments, has a long history of overcoming racial barriers. Back in the '50s when society was much more segregated, doo-wop groups singing on street corners were routinely integrated. John Neal, producer of the a cappella summit, recalls a friend of his who sang doo-wop telling him, "When you walked into a neighborhood where members of another race weren't welcome, if you sang in a doo-wop group, everyone just let you be."

Producer Neal stressed that a cappella music now encompasses all forms of music, including barbershop, hip-hop, heavy metal, jazz and opera. He also emphasized that novices are welcome at the summit.

"They'll feel better for it," he said. Neal pointed to a recent Washington Post article in which Kelsey Menehan, a therapist and chorus member who lectures each year at Washington's Center for Mind-Body Medicine, said, "I think (singing) does something chemically, maybe in the same way that exercise does." Not only do you get an endorphin rush, Menehan said, but singing provides "the added benefit of beauty."

In one study, members of a university college choral society were asked whether the chorus benefited their health. Three-quarters of respondents said they benefited emotionally, and almost six in 10 said they noticed a physical gain. Half of the respondents said there was a spiritual boost as well. Survey participants also reported feeling more positive, an enhanced lung capacity, reduced stress and feeling more alert.

In a study in the Bay Area conducted by George Washington University's Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, seniors who participated in a weekly choral group were less likely to be depressed, required less medication and had fewer accidents. More

Posted by acapnews at November 5, 2004 12:24 PM