Music can soothe a sultry summer

Joining others in song or dance may lift one’s sense of well-being, a recent study suggests. So sing (or dance) on.

Evrard Ngendakumana/Reuters/File
A choir sings during a church service led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity in Bujumbura, the capital of the African nation of Burund, in March 2016. REUTERS/

With Labor Day looming August can seem like the last chance to disengage from the world before autumn forces people to put their feet to the floorboards again.

But this month many are still swept up in the never-ending American presidential campaign, with its rough-and-tumble politicking. It’s easy to be fascinated by the horserace and name calling.

Being an informed citizen is important, but parking oneself in front of a TV cable news channel for much of the day may lead to a dismal world view. Even coverage of the Summer Olympics, which aims to promote international goodwill and celebrate human achievement, has centered on the many challenges facing the Games organizers and the host country, Brazil.

What is one to do to take away the figurative cloud stuck overhead?

Perhaps join a choral singing or dance group.

A study published recently by researchers at Deakin University in Australia found that people who engage in such activities have a markedly better sense of “subjective wellbeing,” an internationally recognized metric that includes several measures of happiness and life satisfaction. To increase well-being, the study says, people must participate in music “in the company of others.” Those who sang or danced alone did not seem to receive the same benefit.

Music itself contains concepts such as “harmony,” “blending,” and “rhythm” that seem to call forth the need to get along with others – and enjoy the interaction. Musicians literally must be “on the same page” as fellow performers, and dancers must be closely in tune with the movement of a partner or ensemble. This getting “in synch” seems to provide a sense of satisfaction.

The study was based on phone interviews with 1,000 randomly chosen individuals. While it doesn’t prove that communal musical activities cause a higher sense of well-being, it does show that the two seem to go hand-in-hand.

Many people instinctively recognize the benefits of group singing. A 2009 study commissioned by the group Chorus America estimated that 42.6 million people in the United States were singing as members of 270,000 choral groups. It found that choral singing put participants in a better frame of mind – made them “better team players” who are “willing to accept criticism, regularly accept assignments outside their area of expertise, and [who are] significantly less likely to say they don’t get enough credit for what they do….”

Taking time to sing didn’t mean ignoring the world, either. Choral singers “exhibit greater civic leadership than their fellow Americans,” the Chorus America study says, and “they are significantly more likely to report voting regularly, reading books and newspapers regularly, contributing money to political parties or candidates, serving as officers of civic organizations, and working for political parties.”

So if you’re left aghast this summer by US and world events, try singing (or dancing) with others. It just might put the world into a better perspective.

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