On song: chamber choir out to prove the benefits of singing
Dr Philip Mathias
The benefits of creative expression through song have long been known but a new collaborative research project at the ArtsHealth: Centre for Research and Practice aims for the first time to document just how our brains and bodies respond when we sing.
Led by Dr Philip Matthias, director of the award winning University of Newcastle Chamber Choir, this fledgling project will bring together musicians and scientists to test those long-held theories about the health and wellbeing benefits of music.
"There has been lots written on how good singing, particularly in a choir, is for you - how it builds character, evokes confidence, makes you feel connected and empowered - but what we'd like to do is get some real physical evidence," Dr Matthias said.
"Using brain imaging and similar medical technology we hope to show physically what happens to us when we sing."
Dr Matthias said he was very excited about the project.
"The choir has had a very successful year and it seems a large part of that success is our reputation for doing things outside the square. We enjoy doing new and inventive things," Dr Matthias said.
The University of Newcastle Chamber Choir has enjoyed a very successful and high profile 2008 - touring around Australian, joining Musica Viva and winning $100,000 and a record deal on Prime's Battle of the Choirs television series.
After winning the competition, Dr Matthias said the choir would like to use its winnings to help the local community.
This study, which will be launched with some of the choir's winnings, will involve not only members of the Chamber Choir, but also special interest groups from within the Hunter community.
"The outcomes of this study will be two-fold," Dr Matthias said.
"Not only will be aiming to glean some solid medical data, but we are also aiming to make a significant community and social impact," he said.
The first project being planned by Dr Matthias and the project team is the launch of a choir group for stroke survivors sometime in the new year.
It's an idea that was first raised by Newcastle occupational therapist Trish Nickel.
"By bringing victims of stroke together as members of a choir, we are hoping to contribute to their recovery through what would really be an alternative method of speech therapy," Dr Matthias said. "I anticipate this project will be a great starting point for us, as we have a number of speech pathologists and students as members of the choir."
Another project on the agenda is the launch of an African children's choir, which will involve not only African refugees but also members of the wider community.
Mr Matthias said he would also like to work with children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
"It would be really nice to be able to say: 'this is what vocalising can do for children with ADHD' and to imagine that one day we could develop a music program that prevents kids from having to take medication," Dr Matthias said.
The first stage of Dr Matthias' project is the preparation of an overview paper to present to the University and some preliminary research into other studies being done in the area.
He then plans to hold a community forum during February to build interest in the project and obtain further ideas about how it should progress. "We want to ensure that the work that we do provides maximum benefits for the community."
The project team will also be seeking new sources of funding.