Earlier in the week, I wrote on the topic of discordance but I only did this knowing that I already had harmony up my sleeve. In today’s post, I’m going to tell you how joining a really fun choir has altered, petty much, the entire landscape of my life, including health, in just two weeks but first some background to how this came about and what harmony has to do with its powerful effects (if you just want to read about the many benefits of joining a contemporary, all inclusive choir, scroll to the heading Rock Choir below).
You could say that finding harmony is a special interest of many, if not most people; because, whether we know it or not, we seek it out on the way to achieving the much longed-for states of peace and balance that can feel so very elusive in life given that it is a natural by-product of going after those states. As we know, life is full of contrast, discord, variance, disagreement and, much of the time, what translates as a loud clanging sound to the ears. However, where harmony is (and though there may still be many very different, even oppositional, components to a situation, which is “just the way life is”), those components no longer jar but, rather, become cohesive enough to “make beautiful music” (literal or otherwise) together. It’s the ultimate point of reconciliation; which is to admit that there will always be differences…but that they can work so beautifully together, as a single “whole” made up of many opinions or noises, just so long as we glean the overarching point to it all, which could be peace, love…or a beautiful sound. Oh how we all long for that!
In my case, seeking harmony has become one of my special topics, a focal interest, over many years though I might have typically labeled it “chasing my own recovery” (which is to harmonise the body) or a zillion other minor fixations. Both inside and out, so whether I have sought to harmonise my health or keep the peace in my social environment, I can see how it has been a prime focal point underlying multiple levels of experience I’ve been having since I was a child (when family and peer-group harmony was just so very important to me…if not always achievable) and onwards to where world harmony is kind-of the centre point of all my fixations when I follow them to their natural conclusions. I spend a lot of time seeking harmony in my thoughts, which is to reconcile all the varying aspects of me into a sense of self that expands a little more with each breakthrough in understanding. I see how my deep attunement to harmony (thus, disharmony) underlies my oversensitivity to a myriad of sensory triggers, both inside and outside of my body; because I feel disharmony as warning or discomfort, even pain, inside of me. My highly strung “system” picks up on both harmony (and, as I said) disharmony like a finely tuned detection instrument and responds to it in zero time via frequency messages transmitting as resonance or non-resonance, reporting anomalies to me which alert me and rattle my nerves (as I suspect is the case for many highly-sensitive people); which was one of the premises of that earlier post on discordance making me something of a lifetime expert in harmony…and yet, still so much to learn.
Because over the last few years, (because of my high-sensitivities) the entire focal point of that search for harmony has been me; which was more than enough for me to try and cope with (you could say, I have been in protection mode; mitigating my exposures to disharmony, having had quite enough of that in my earlier life). Bringing other people into that picture was more than I could cope with, most of the time, hence my pulled-back, extremely introverted life. For those important years, I somehow knew I had to become the specialist…and I did; I got very good at it, in my own domain.
Lately, the urge to broaden that net to experience myself in context with other people again began to arrive which, as I shared about yesterday, has led to some incredible (to me at least) leaps in behaviour from semi-reclusiveness to, suddenly, being out there amongst crowds almost overnight. The first way I did this was to explore joining a Nordic Walking group (see my post on this) and now, with my passport to join in dozens of walks operated by Nordic Walking UK across my own and other regions, I am all-kitted out to meet people whilst doing something that (it turns out) I very much enjoy; as I am doing later today, when I meet some more people never encountered before. I don’t know if you know how astonishing this sounds to me, as someone who has had to build myself up for days or even weeks to do anything different to my routines, especially involving other people, for the last few years and yet I can now, apparently, just jump in my car and rock up at a carpark to say “hi” to a bunch of people never before encountered and it feels OK to do that and then spend an hour or so with them in what is quite the social activity. This, to me, is measure of just how new these times feel since the decade turned and this new solar cycle got started, since I can only assume others are also feeling this switch-over, or even complete turned-table flip-over, of their own personal habits and typical ways recently (for more on the potent effect of a new solar cycle, see my post “Transitions” from a couple of weeks ago).
However, in the same week that I chased after Nordic Walking I knew I also wanted more (though my husband thought I was a little bit mad to bite off two new mouthfuls in one go). I love music; its one of the things that stabilises my sensitivities and keeps me in a joy vibe so we have been making a concerted effort to see more live music, having just clocked up our 18th pair of tickets to a live gig since we set this intention a year ago…and I’m loving it. This, alone, has really pushed my boundaries since it takes me out into the kind of crowded places previously avoided and relies on a level of commitment that I will be there, however I happen feel on the day. But I knew I wanted more than just the watching of it; I wanted to take part and learning the Irish Whistle a couple of years ago no longer felt like enough. I’ve watched my daughter take her music involvement to a very high level but it hasn’t been about me since I left school (during which I sang in choirs for over ten years), intending to join an adult choir or learn an instrument in my twenties…but, of course, I never did.
Last year, when the same thought came bubbling up, I did a lot of research about choirs in my area but talked myself out of every one. The one I liked the most – Rock Choir – received the most inner criticism from me; I picked fault with it to the same degree that I was inwardly terrified to join (I see this now) because I was frightened to death to join what looked like a remarkably jolly and social bunch of people having a riot of fun flash-mobbing shopping precincts and doing concerts and rehearsals. No po-faced church recitals this; here was my kind of tribe, I could see that immediately…and I was too frightened to join them.
The topic came up again in my long chat with the first of the Nordic Walking coaches to get back to me, a couple of weeks ago. She mentioned that one of her contacts had set up a choir called something like Singing Your Pain away. It sounded great; I knew (or could imagine) that singing had profound therapeutic benefits…more on that below…and I thought her idea was absolutely wonderful and much needed. However, I looked at the website and knew it wasn’t for me, that these weren’t my people, brave though they are. In my case, knowing as I do how what we focus on can become the pivot of our reality (certainly true in my case…I know to take care of my focal points these days) a choir that had “pain” in the title didn’t like seem such a great idea, but the very thought of it gave e a nudge.
Within the hour I had looked at all the various options in my area and come back to land, quite decidedly, on the one I originally liked, a year ago…Rock Choir!
It seems Rock Choir has become quite the phenomenon in the UK over the last few years since it was started in 2005 as the first contemporary choir to welcome the general public with no previous experience, no audition and no need to read music. Now a regional thing with choirs dotted all over the map, it has an impressive collection of anecdotes gathered from members (largely but not only women…) professing it has “changed their lives” and “transformed their friendships” after years of loneliness, pain, stress…and all the rest. I have to admit, reading and watching the reviews describing laugher and inclusiveness, it was a beguiling prospect.
Having pretty much decided which regional choir I would want to attach to (I live straddled between several), I settled down to watch a couple of videos from “my” group and then a performance by the national group leaders running through one of their songs for the coming term…and it made me cry. Every time I watched it, though the singing was upbeat, it was as though tears spontaneously released from my eyes and I was laugh-crying, made kid-like again at the thought of singing Abba with adult women yet moved by the feeling of people in harmony…and so I knew this had to be it; I needed whatever release therapy this was going to be for me. (By the way, I had noticed for the last year or so that whenever I happened to hear a choir on TV or in passing, I would choke up straightaway, no matter the occasion or the piece of music.) So, I signed up for my free trial and (hoping I wouldn’t keep on crying on the night…I didn’t) geared myself up for going in three days time…during which time I was surprisingly buoyant and there was none of my usual “commitment remorse” or the desire to talk myself out of it with excuses; in fact, I was only getting more and more excited by the day and telling people left and right, though I had meant to keep it a secret until I had checked I liked it (there’s a clue from the universe).
By the time the day came, I had a few knots in my stomach but I was still (as with the Nordic Walking) surprisingly resilient and got myself prepared well in advance and with such inner calm it astonished me. It involved night driving some distance, not my favourite thing as headlight glare really affects me these days but I overcame that too. Pulling up in that overcrowded carpark to find that I wasn’t as extra-early as I thought (turns out they all arrive pretty early for the social chat before it starts), I was more than a little daunted to join the throng and walk into a theatre to announce myself at the sign-in point with probably the best part of 200 people sat in the rows above me but I did it with a big smile. I was also so glad I spent some time discovering I have a Lower Alto voice that afternoon, courtesy of YouTube, as this helped them to be able to sit me in the right section straight away without the need for me to struggle and be reallocated half way through.
In fact, in my own appraisal of voice type I was “bang on” and here was the metaphor that resonated with me so powerfully, both then as we started to sing together and I realised straightaway I had “found my part” (there was no forcing my notes, it felt so natural and my section had most of the melody, which is what I love) and for many days afterwards, because:
I had (finally) found my place in the mix…and so I got to experience what it felt like to find myself in the harmony with other people!
Imagine, I had never experienced this before (I used to have to force or mute my voice in choir at school) and it felt so amazing good to realise I was never really out of tune or struggling, I was just put into the wrong part of the mix until now…oh truism of truisms, for so many of us in one way or another. Just think about that for a moment; if you are feeling as though you don’t fit in, it simply means you haven’t found your place yet (and, when you do, you won’t find yourself all alone there) since there is a place for literally all of us in the harmony of life and steadfastly following what brings us joy will almost invariably take is there.
If you have read my last post (about a lifetime of feeling like the odd one out), you will know just how BIG this was for me. Herein lies the potency of a choir. No longer the misfit, we all find we have our own particular place in a collective cohesiveness that sounds oh-so beautiful heard as one. As our choir leader tries to convey when he encourages people to come to the front and listen, we really don’t know how beautiful we sound together until we stop and do that; and then, we realise, there was always a place for us…that seat was always there…we just hadn’t got around to finding it yet.
All my life (more metaphor again) I had struggled with my involvement in choirs and any singing context, love it though I do, because it was always assumed that females should be able to sing the high parts (sweetly….); yes, a stupid social construct, probably a throw back to the Victorians and beyond since its simply not true. Most recently, at every school concert joined in as a parent, I have struggled so much with that assumed high key that I have spent most of those years lip syncing at least half, if not all, the way through in order to “seem” to join in. As in life itself, I was left going through the motions, acting them out inauthentically whilst feeling like the oddball, the outsider, for whom no place had been set at the collective table….and also more than a little bit embarrassed and inept, though I knew I could sing (I sang in choirs for years and sing all the time at home). As ever, it was only in a manmade social setting, “compared” against some sort of social construct, that I was made to feel faulty…story of my life (and why I had withdrawn for so long).
Comparing with others is no longer necessary when you have found your own comfortable part and can concentrate on it, knowing you have found your place in the harmony (not that you are required to conform to a single, socially determined, standard). Now, suddenly, I had found my place, next to a woman who has turned out to be another new friend (almost the same age as me, she hasn’t been going all that long either and is also lonely at home since giving up full time work to take care of her father, who has now passed). Above all, I’m sat amongst my voice peers, which must be a fairly equal quarter of the choir (there are four segments) so us deeper ladies are not such oddballs here, at all, and there is another huge segment made up of bass voices lower than ours; but when we put our voices together…oh the magical effect!
The other reason I chose this choir is that the choice of music isn’t pretentious, nor was there any need to audition, as I already said. The assumption is that we all have a voice thus something to offer and that music should be fun and relatable, so the leader picks and chooses from the familiar songbooks of Abba and Elton John, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, ELO and Mariah Carey, etc.(there’s a huge mixture of tempo and theme). The thing in common is the quality of the teaching (our leader is extraordinary) and the preparation of the harmonic parts, which are challenging but worth it (there’s no sheet music, its all done from direct learning) and so satisfying to learn and pull it all together (as life should be, when we pull our diversities together into one harmonious sound). In fact, the layers of metaphor poised to teach us about life are so “there” and just so powerful in that room that you come out of choir rehearsals feeling like you have been deep into the fundamental philosophy of life while having so much fun you hardly noticed. This is practical philosophy, and it goes in especially deep because we are in such a high vibe as we take it in!
This is what they say about choirs, isn’t it? They teach us how to be together in all our differences, inclusive and accepting of variance, in fact happy to make use of those variances to powerful effect; the key to cohesion is in where all those different qualities focus, which is towards the harmonious product at the end. We can all be as different as we like, as long as we share at least one premise which, in life surely, has to be love. This kind of cohesiveness does benefit from great leadership but that’s not from someone who is dogmatic or threatening but someone who shows the way by example and who has patience demonstrating the very worth of doing things in ways that harmonise with what everyone else is doing, so that we all get so much more out of it. Humour is the great unifier and our leader happens to be a natural comedian; he has us wiping tears from our eyes even as he coerces the best possible performances out of us and the effect is astonishing, even as our faces ache with smiling. Within an hour of joining, I couldn’t believe I was part of something that sounded this good and the singing and laughter therapy I take home with me lasts all week!
The other thing is that this has been a major chance to mix, to push boundaries, to find things in common with other people who, at the surface of things, may “seem” very different (there is certainly a broad variety of ages). On my second week, as luck would have it, our leader decided to initiate a “party game” at the start whereby we had all been asked to take a chocolate from a box on the way in and now we had to find the people with the same coloured wrapper, introduce ourselves and find things in common. Again, I shocked myself for how “up” for this I was (had you told me about such a challenge a few weeks ago, I would have stayed at home…). I was dashing around finding my people and was often the one to initiate the introductions while some people seemed caught up in the muteness of their embarrassment (that used to be me so I can relate). In fact, some people found just one or two matches and stuck to them like glue but I kept on moving around that huge room and, by the end, had found nine or ten people whose names I will now try to remember in future weeks, some of whom had been members for ten years or more and others who were almost as new as me. I found various things in common with all of them; a love of gardens was the one that stuck in my mind and I met a particularly lovely French lady who volunteers at one I go to so I hope to continue our chat another week. So, it turns out I’m more gregarious than I thought…and don’t need alcohol or pretence to be that way; just enthusiasm, authenticity and a genuine interest in other people!
At our rehearsal this week, we ran through three songs at the end that had been chosen by a member who had just passed and who, having known this was going to happen, had asked for some of the choir to sing at her funeral. The amount of affection for this woman and the efforts made to see though her wishes was heartwarming; there is a real sense of choir-family that is palpable as soon as you sign up and, though its a tangible quality that fills the airwaves, it is very hard to describe (and best experienced for yourselves, which is why the taster sessions work so well). For me, its a graduation of sorts; I had got pretty good at recognising and maintaining inner harmony but, for my continued morale and participation as a human being, I needed to put myself in a regular position of experiencing outer harmony (with other human beings) and here it was in this room…I could feel it and could hear it. Of course, people bring their problems along and of course I can feel their vibes all around me, not to mention all their cell phones (the woman next to me checks her messages even as we rehearse) and I leave feeling as though I have taken a mouth full of electro-magnetic pollution into me like something I’ve guzzled from a pint glass but, while I’m in there, I’m not focussing on that, at all. Here’s the thing: I suspect, for those of us who are especially sensitive, though the idea of being “out” amongst a load of other people in a room together is quite abhorrent as an idea, the reality is we could benefit from this more than most…because its the missing link to our health, we have to dare to go there to break the stalemate of our stuckness, and choir is an appropriate way in as it puts us where harmony is the very name of the game.
I mentioned the health benefits of singing in a choir, which I had kind-of presumed in advance. Well, since joining my choir, I seem to be finding evidence of this all over the place (quite aside from he number of choirs that are being set up specifically for healing in this region). A recent New Year article from the BBC on the topic of “Ten Simple Things You Can Do to Live Better” lists joining a choir as one of them. It quotes research that has demonstrated that those who sing in a choir “can experience significant pain reduction, in some cases by 50%”. It goes on to say “group singing has been found to boost mental health, help the immune system and reduce stress. Singing releases endorphins, reducing our perception of pain and acting in a similar way to morphine — but without the danger of addiction”. Certainly, since joining, my mental health feels much improved, I feel upbeat, enthusiastic, social and full of laugher when I think back to the last rehearsal, not to mention excitement to go again. Gone are the feelings of being so terribly isolated. I have something to look forward to; some structure that is welcome in my life and some other, unnamable, quality coursing through my veins which comes (and can only come) from collaboration with other human beings; this is a powerful cocktail. My family are so proud of me; my husband teared up when he told me this the other day, having seen me at my lowest points and then witnessed the immense determination that has ejected me, after what was a pretty tough year in 2019, from the launchpad of this turnaround. My self-appreciation and confidence are already souring as a result or witnessing my own transformation; I think I am entitled to feel pretty proud of myself!
Singing can also really help with breathing and posture (both weak areas of mine) and, combined with Nordic Walking, I’ve certainly noticed dramatic improvement in my physical health and resilience over the last two weeks; I actually feel taller. People quoted in yet another article in a popular magazine below (specifically about Rock Choir) plus countless comments on Facebook declare that its helped them though depression and loss, to get over addiction, helped them to feel “like me” again, to find new friends and get them out of loneliness, to cope with autoimmunity and other chronic illnesses, with the loss of a loved one and so much more….the stories keep pouring in and I can sense how mine might become one of them (not that I needed any more convincing, once I had tried it for myself).
It’s been an astonishing few weeks, and I won’t pretend I haven’t had a couple of “crash” days in between, when tiredness and even severe pain have overtaken me again and I’ve had to lie low. I’ve done such a lot, turned my life inside out, challenged my confidence and grown whole new branches of synapses so that’s all to be expected; in fact, its essential that I factor those “inner times” in so I don’t burn out (as I know too well). The interesting thing was that on Monday, though I had an awful migraine-intensity headache and felt like I just wanted to go to sleep, I went to choir anyway (as I would have been so disappointed to miss it) and forgot all about my pain while I was there. Yes, the headache came back later but I was so uptempo from my evening, it really didn’t get to me too much and that’s the difference!
On top of Nordic Walking, where I’ve already made a couple of friends, plus another woman I’ve hooked up with for a coffee soon, from unusual things we have in common (coordinated via the first Nordic coach I spoke to, who happens to be the coordinator of a women’s network), plus an old friend who has recently left work so I’ve been seeing her more and my neighbour who invited me for lunch the other day (which has never happened before but I’m convinced once you get into the frequency of inviting more connection, more connection simply comes to find you…), its been quite an amazing month. Quite a different month to anything that came before it…for years. Add in a busy schedule of concerts in our diary (one a week for the next month) and my life is suddenly quite transformed from inner to outer, which goes to show transformation can really make a different landscape of our lives in next to no time…but first we have to invite it in, which is the one thing I urge you to do if this feels like it is you.
If it is, first set your intentions clearly (I wrote mine down, making it as free-flow and aspirational as I could, without worrying “how” these things could come about), then take those first steps of research or contacting people, reach out for feelings of excitement and enthusiasm when nerves or doubts take you over and, if all else fails, grab onto appreciation…including appreciation of how brave you are being and for your life as it currently is, plus the opportunities you know are already there to connect because the world is full of them when we look outside our safety zone. These three magic ingredients…excitement, enthusiasm, appreciation…spin you up to a higher frequency than any old fears you may be prone to and will help you to get some momentum going in your life. The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.