Speakers and abstracts

Social Dynamics and Well-being in Group Singing

Dr. Michael Bonshor, University of Sheffield

The evidence-based health effects of singing together include physical, psychological and social well-being benefits. Social well-being plays a powerful role in holistic health, and has been found to affect singers’ confidence and performance quality. Michael Bonshor’s presentation focuses on these associations between participating in group singing activities and social wellbeing, and explores the effects of social dynamics upon group performance. The multi-directional interactions within singing ensembles include layers of verbal and non-verbal communication which influence social learning, collective achievement and individual confidence levels. This examination of the social dynamics within groups of singers is based on an in-depth qualitative research initiative, and the findings have constructive implications for leaders of choirs of all sizes and genres. Based on his research evidence, Michael presents a set of philosophical, pedagogical and practical approaches to choral group facilitation.

What singing high notes tells us about gender (and what it doesn’t)

Dr. Freya Jarman, University of Liverpool

High notes are everywhere in vocal music—of course they are. After all, and whatever else it may be, music is a collection of pitches low and high. Over the last 1000 years of western music history, vocal high notes have come to signify a wide range of things, including childhood, innocence, youth, heroic passion, racial difference, and more. My contention is that these things are also intensely gendered—they are not separate from the gender performance of the singer (or, in some cases, the characterisation in an opera, song, or musical), but instead they actively produce such gender positions. In this paper, I turn to a broad range of western musical genres to illustrate a range of concepts that high notes signify, in order to demonstrate that ‘gender’ is not a self-sufficient, standalone category that ‘intersects’ with race, ethnicity, age, class, size, and so on; rather, I suggest that gender is precisely the intersection itself of all those features.

Singing in the brain and for the brain

Dr. Minna Huotilainen, University of Helsinki

Recent neuroscientific research has highlighted the positive transfer effects of learning to play a musical instrument and studying music. There is less research on singers, but the present evidence shows that the use of the human voice has some similar and some specific effects when compared to instrument training. Our cross-sectional and follow-up studies in adults, children, and specifically children with cochlear implants show that singing is beneficial for a number of cognitive capabilities such as attentive and perceptive functions especially in the field of spoken language. In addition, the role of singing in learning, inducing memory traces and in inducing physiological coherence in a group of participants will be discussed.

Music and health perspectives from an amateur singer and physician

Dr. Töres Theorell, Stockholm University

There is a rapidly growing scientific literature on possible health related effects of singing alone and in group. The research methodology ranges from qualitative studies of perceived beneficial effects to physiological studies of temporary and more long-lasting effects on hormones and brain functions. The most difficult task is to explore long-lasting health effects. In order to convince scientists about the beneficial effects of choir singing one has to study subjects who start singing in a choir for a longer period of time, for instance one year, and to follow a comparable non-singing group during the same period. Few such studies have been published but I shall describe two of them and discuss how they were done and what they showed. The following factors could explain possible health benefits of regular practice of singing:

1)  Training of large muscles as in regular physical exercise (diaphragm and thoracic muscles)
2)  Training of cooperation between breathing and heart function
3)  Temporary shots of happiness hormones
4)  Stimulation of regenerative hormones
5)  Aesthetical experiences that may affect perception of and coping with life atrocities

In group singing we also get social effects – increased cohesiveness and hence improved willingness to live. These factors will be discussed in the lecture

The presence of the past in performing vocal music of the 17th and 18th centuries

Dr. Päivi Järviö, Uniarts Helsinki

The presentation addresses the performing practices of singing 17th– and 18th-century Italian and French music, the foundation of which is live, spoken declamation: the art of the orator. In addition, more general questions concerning pastness and presence, shareable knowledge and the embodied experience of the performer, and the relationship between singing and live speaking, are discussed.

How is the past realized in the present for us as performers and as listeners? What is the relationship between the mute sources (scores, treatises, manuals, descriptions, iconographic material etc.) and the live, sounding performances of today? How does the shared knowledge produced by research of historical performing practices and the embodied experience of a present-day performer become one? What kind of sung declamation does consulting 17th– and 18th-century sources on the rhetoric of actio potentially produce?

A case study on the realization of dramatic, spoken declamation as sung music will be presented. In addition to presenting a musical fragment, sources illuminating the performing practices of spoken and sung declamation are discussed.