Anecdotal stories regarding the success of music for improving health abound, and many are supported with scientific studies. For example, some of the researched benefits and attributes of singing in a choir include the following:
- rhythmicity (auditory and motor neuron connectivity)
- synchronicity (group breathing and heart rates)
- stress relief (cortisol decrease)
- physical therapy (abdominal and facial exercise)
- creativity (improvisational expression)
- depression management (serotonin increase)
- communal participation (primal needs of engagement)
- “happiness” (increases in both oxytocin and dopamine).
The Parkinson’s Choir, which began as a result of a study at Ryerson University in Toronto, works with Parkinson’s patients to improve vocal quality, facial expressiveness, and emotion perception. Researchers have found that singing in a choir can impact health on not only a physiological level, such as helping restore breath support, but can also help mitigate other Parkinson’s Disease issues, such as masked face syndrome and communication. Parkinson’s is a chronic movement disorder, a neurological disease that prevents the production of dopamine, which is known to help regulate muscle movement. The ensuing muscle rigidity can manifest itself in altered speech characteristics, such as adopting a hoarse or breathy voice and a tendency to have imprecise articulation rates. Communication becomes difficult as bursts of rushed speech delivered in a monotone and monoloud voice (i.e. lack of expression) result in misinterpreted exchanges. The inability to express thoughts visually (masked face syndrome) and aurally (lost vocal muscle control) are key contributors to the depression and isolation found in the Parkinson’s community.
Frank Russo, a psychology professor at Ryerson University, used the mirroring effect or mimicry in his study to encourage choristers to practice facial expressions to engage with the conductor. Russo states, “We are facilitating exercise of the facial muscles and the vocal muscles. It’s through this experience of expressing ourselves in emotional communication that we are better able to understand other people’s emotions.” He has found that this type of interaction can show positive results in as little as thirteen weeks, with choristers experiencing a noticeable improvement in voice modulation, eye contact, rhythmicity, and overall confidence. Also, it is likely that the relationship between music and dopamine contributes to the success of the program. The Parkinson’s Choir, in operation for over ten years, is currently in partnership with the Canadian Opera Company rehearsing weekly at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.
In addition to scientific studies at the physical and chemical level, the neuro component of musicking presents a mind-over-matter set of conditions that contribute to attaining not only good health, but also a good life (Rx Music 2020).