God respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing.
This Thursday (May 10) I performed in my second choir concert in less than a year. Like the December (2011) concert this one included our choir, Home Cookin', and our choir director's other choir: Harmony Mountain. The venue was a small brown Anglican church nestled in a quiet side street in North Vancouver. The audience wasn't quite as large as the previous concert, but it was large enough to make it exciting and to appreciate the fact that we weren't just singing for ourselves. In fact, we were singing for both the audience and to benefit The Stephen Lewis Foundation, an organization that supports people living with AIDS in Africa, the families of those who have died of the disease, and grandparents who are raising AIDS orphans. That fact made me feel good. But, to be honest, singing with my choir in front of an audience would have made me feel good even if we weren't supporting a worthy cause. (It's great that we were, but it isn't a necessary part of the process.)
Singing is a human universal. People of all ages from every culture in the world sing when they're happy, when they're sad, and when they're sad and want to be happy. Singing is a gift, especially for those who are recovering from trauma and grief. It releases the heart strings and lets us breathe again and connects us to our own breath and to those who are singing beside us. Our choir is a pretty informal one and we sing what our director calls "roots and folk" music, which is a good description of what we do. On Thursday, our program included a folky song from Newfoundland, a gospel song that is the basis for the well known civil rights song, "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize," a Georgian folk song (from Georgia, Russia) and a nice mix of singer-songwriter stuff. We had soloists, quartets - one of which I was in - trios and duets. We were accompanied by piano, a small bluegrass band, and nothing - i.e. a cappella. All of it was a blast. The other choir was a real treat too. They did music that ranged from the gospel song, Angel Band, to songs by Joe Cocker and Sting. (Women singing, photo: Rusty Stewart. flickr creative commons)
Man singing, photo: Tobias Leeger, flickr creative commons
For me, singing has been a large part of my healing journey. I'm not the only one who is using this practice. Here is a moving story about an Iraqi War veteran who has returned to singing to save his life: not metaphorically, but literally. He made three suicide attempts before rediscovering the joy of singing that he had practiced as a young man. Haitians living in New York City have also been using singing to heal from the grief and trauma of the Haitian Earthquake of 2010. I think singing has such a powerful healing affect because it's based in a different part of our brain than spoken speech. I know this is hard to believe, but I've read about it and witnessed it with my own eyes. In fact, singing therapy is being used to teach stroke survivors how to speak again. One of the most moving performances I've ever witnessed was the veteran blues and jazz singer Sippie Wallace singing after she had had a stroke. Sippie couldn't walk or talk and had to be helped onto the stage. But, boy, could she sing. She opened her mouth and a beautiful sound came out. I've never forgotten watching this small old woman, recovering from a stroke, sing with such huge joy. (Singing above, one of the members of The Connections Zulu Choir, photo: Andrew, flickr creative commons)
In the video below, Sippie was younger, pre-stroke.
What healing practices do you use that bring you joy and feed your heart? I'd love to hear about them.