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piano_childDear Nadine,
I want to see the sparkle back in my teen’s eyes. Any suggestions? Thanks, Annie

Annie, fill your child’s heart, mind and soul with joy this Valentine’s month and sign her up to sing!

When Gareth Malone, the UK’s youngest, trendiest, most inspiring choirmaster exploded onto our reality TV screens a few years ago, I didn’t think that his mission to build choirs in diverse, disaffected schools and communities across the length of Britain would strike such a harmonious chord with people, but I was wrong. Gareth’s Army Wives’ Choir won the Brit Awards last October, and for the first time, in a very long time, “choir practice” has become popular in the UK amongst the 18-25 age range and younger — and that’s music to my ears!

Of course, we all know that making beautiful music is good for us and our kids. As Gareth says, “Humans have been making music for tens of thousands of years. Singing exercises a range of muscles and makes you feel happy.” Professor Graham Welsh of the University of Surrey agrees: “Singing makes us breathe more deeply than many forms of strenuous exercise, so we take in more oxygen, improve aerobic capacity and experience a release of muscle tension, as well.” This helps improve the immune system and releases endorphins into the brain and body, which brings feelings of wellness, positivity and harmony.

Academically speaking, singing hits the high notes, too! As children’s music specialist Meredith LeVande (MonkeyMonkeyMusic.com) says, “More and more studies show a link between higher academic achievement and children who are exposed to music. Music stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, math, and emotional development.” In fact, high school students who sing or play an instrument generally score up to 52 points higher on the SAT than those who do not.

While singing is clearly good medicine for young minds and bodies, it’s also uplifting heart and spirit. That’s because singing is about joy, connection and expression. A study published in Australia in 2008 revealed that, on average, choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the general public — even when the actual problems faced by those singers were more substantial than those faced by everyone else [Source: MacLean]. That’s why I stayed a member of my church choir throughout my teens, although it was hardly hip (hop!).

I was 10 years old when the vicar recruited a group of us to fill the choir seats of our 1,000-year-old church. Weekly choir practice, Sunday services, weddings, Christmas and Easter concerts and the “big sing” at Bristol Cathedral each fall kept us humming. Through choir, I learned to warble the psalms, memorized a good hundred hymns by rote, and discovered an appreciation for sacral music that still inspires me today. I also made friends for life, earned myself some choice Saturday work through my choral connections and, while “Glee” it certainly wasn’t, weekly structure, self-discipline and community it was. Singing also provided sanctuary.

Let’s be honest, the teenage years are often turbulent with hormonal strife. Add to that mix, the invariable tensions that arise between parents trying to stem a tidal wave of challenges that threatened to capsize our family, and I can look back and appreciate why I held onto choir practice like a limpet to a rock.

Singing is, after all, a wonderful vehicle through which children can give voice to what is happening in their lives. Kids may not have the words to articulate what is going on, but song lyrics do. Similarly, melodies can capture the emotions that our kids may be struggling to express. Pair lyrics and melody together, and music holds the power to unlock the recesses of a kid’s heart. Whether that heart is pulsing with joy or bleeding with pain, singing provides an uplifting outlet, bringing peace, calm and inspiration.

Michael Jolkoyski, a psychologist who specializes in musicians agrees: “(Singing) can satisfy the need to unwind from the worries of life, but unlike the other things (kids) often use for this purpose, such as excessive eating, drinking, TV or aimless web browsing, (singing) makes them more alive and connected with one another.”

Even the medical profession is beginning to appreciate the power of singing to help kids heal. At Texas Children’s Cancer Center, for example, Project “Purple Songs Can Fly” encourages sick children to work with Anita Kruse and other professionals to write, sing and record their own songs. These songs are then taken on flights with participating pilots, passengers and astronauts and returned to the child, signed and with a complete flight record. “Purple Songs Can Fly” is used to teach each sick child that they (and their story) can fly above the limitations of their illness.

Singing — whether “Happy Birthday,” whether in the shower, whether out of tune or in harmony with others, is a gift. Singing opens us up mind, body and spirit. It’s therapeutic, it’s healing, it’s fun — which is why encouraging our spirited kids to let loose and sing should be on all of our parental “to-do” lists.

So this February, forget the candy, the chocolate and the Valentine’s cake, for as Shakespeare noted, “Music be the food of love!” Instead, get your kids humming, strumming, rapping, tapping, yodeling and karokeing. Watch Pitch Perfect, America’s Got Talent, American Idol and X-Factor together. Take your spirited kids to see opera, electronica and Bieber. And as the sparkle surfaces in your spirited kids’ eyes, the smile widens on their face and as you hear the music erupt from their throats, you’ll appreciate how much ‘’Life (really) is a song!”’

Related Links:
Prehistoric Vocalism: Antiquity to 1590
Why Should Children Sing?
Music Sample: Indigo Dreams: Kid’s Relaxation Music, by Stress Free Kids
Music Sample: Music for Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit, by Steve Halpern
Also: The Healing Power of Music
10 Ways Music Benefits Children
10 Ways Music Benefits Children
Health Benefits of Singing
Purple Songs Can Fly

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Nadine Penny attained her M.A. from the University of Denver in Counseling Psychology. Nadine lives in Minnetonka where she works as a medium, life issues reader and Reiki master. Contact her at nadine.penny@gmail.com and visit www.nadinepenny.com.

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