Choral Valley

Words by Wendy Nixon Stothert
Photos by Jenn Dykstra

The joy of lifting your voice with others.

 


 

Mind. Body. Heart. Spirit. The experience of communal singing nourishes them all. The Comox Valley is rich in choral activity. There’s a choir here for anyone to lift their voice in song with others. There are an estimated 700 singers currently participating in at least 15 organized choral ensembles in our little cultural mecca.  Here, we have small and large groups of the young and old, chanting, grooving, soaring, and rocking in choirs from classical and contemporary to jazz and Broadway.

When local choral singers are asked why they join a choir, the resounding reply is that it makes them feel good. Scientists concur. Singing recruits nearly all areas of the brain. The cognitive benefits include increased concentration and attention, memory enhancement, and an increased communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. Amazingly, people who have lost the ability to speak due to health issues such as dementia or a stroke are sometimes able to communicate and even recover through singing.

At its core, singing involves controlled breathing. This mindful approach to respiration has many advantages. It provides exercise for the lungs, the diaphragm, and the intercostal and abdominal muscles. Respiration rates slow and there is increased aerobic activity due to the depth of the breath, benefitting the heart and circulation. Singers’ heart rates decrease, creating a soothing effect. In fact, one study revealed that choristers’ heart rates even sync up to one another, speeding up and slowing down at the same rate.

Singing has been shown to have positive effects when endorphins and oxytocin are released. Endorphins are hormones associated with pain relief and the creation of feelings of pleasure and reward. Increased oxytocin levels help alleviate stress and anxiety, as well as enhance feelings of trust and social bonding. “Singing gives me confidence and courage,” reports Erin Katajamaki, a member of the Canadian Military Wives Choir Comox (CMWCC). “It takes me away from all my stress and worries, and makes me feel free,” says Just in Time Choirs’ Jems member and president of the Celebration Singers, Kelly Finlayson. In my experience, singers consistently testify to feeling uplifted, energized, and happy both during and after choral rehearsals.

You don’t have to be a star singer to participate. There is a misconception that singing is only for the elite. Au contraire! Singing is for everyone. In a choir, voices blend together, creating a collective sound that, in itself, is enough to give you goosebumps. “One voice can be beautiful, but many make a merging of tones that gives you a tapestry of beauty. I love being a part of that,” gushes Caroline Bouchard, another CMWCC member.

Humans seek connection—it’s elemental to seek that feeling of belonging. When we sing as an ensemble, we are synchronized like flocks of birds and schools of fish. “Choir pulls everyone together, collaborating and sharing in the joy of creating something special.” says Pat Allan, a new choral convert. “Any act of creation shared with others has an aspect of profundity for me,” explains Brett Knights, a computer programmer who sings with the Just in Time Choirs. “It’s meditative and healing. It feels like what I’m supposed to do with my voice,” says local musician Kirsten Wood. “I joined for companionship,” says nutritionist and member of the CMWCC Edna Wilson. “We are stronger together.”

Folks from all walks of life enjoy the fellowship, the fun, and the joyful experience of being in a choir. Connection, confidence, community, creativity, and the challenge of learning are fostered in the process. If you are looking for somewhere to sing your heart out, please visit www.choralvalley.ca for a listing of choral opportunities in the Comox Valley.




Category: Volume 9