Not long ago, the idea of a choir would have probably conjured up images of Sunday morning hymns, sung by eager churchgoers in robes. But thanks to groups like Toronto’s Choir! Choir! Choir! (a weekly drop-in singing event that invites anyone to participate), a shift in attitudes towards joining choirs have occurred. As a result, choirs are emerging across Hamilton, with something for everyone and benefits for all.
A quick google search brings up a selection of local choirs with varied interests. Hamilton Sings Community Choir is a non-audition, mixed voice choir for adults and older youth; Strata highlights Canadian composers; Choir Nation Hamilton bridges arts and businesses through singing; Chorus Hamilton is semi-professional; the Bach Elgar Choir has been in existence since 1905, performing classical repertoire and Musicata: Hamilton’s Voices (pictured) frequently features guest artists and other local groups in their music. In addition to these, there are many more choirs throughout the city; even McMaster has student choirs and for younger ones, children’s choirs exist throughout the city.
“Things are possible here,” says Michael Rode, Artistic Director and Conductor with the Hamilton Choir Project; an acapella chamber choir entering their fifth season performing contemporary choral work. “If you have creative need or want, you can just do it. And that’s one of the beautiful things about the Hamilton arts scene. There’s a real authenticity and welcoming and invitation from Hamilton in that.”
Rode and his wife started the Hamilton Choir Project after moving to Hamilton from Toronto. After surveying the local choir landscape, they desired a different experience and decided to start a choir with a few friends on their porch. Five years later, the group has evolved from their casual roots and has grown to thirty members, who rehearse regularly and perform two concerts annually at the Rock on Locke.
“I felt like we were embraced and welcomed by the other choirs in this community,” Rode recalls. “There was no sense that ‘oh no, here’s another choir.’ There was a sense that ‘oh, good. This can only bode well for the music community.’ And that’s the heart that we continue. The more people that invest in choral singing and invest in music, it makes the world a better place.”
This sentiment may be truer than Rode realizes. In a world that is increasingly about a virtual presence and social media, choirs are bringing people together and forging social bonds for a common purpose which is good for them as individuals, and for the community as well.
Research have shown that singing in a choir has a number of health benefits. Studies have found that those participating in a choir have improved mental health, and develop a stronger sense of community as the choir promotes feelings of belonging and wellbeing. Physically, singing in a choir requires people to move together in a synchronized fashion as they control- in unison- the hundreds of muscles involved in regulating one’s voice. This has proven impacted benefits on improving breathing, posture and muscle tension. There is also evidence to suggest that music can play a role in sustaining a healthy immune system by reducing stress as well.
The benefits of singing aren’t just for choir members. For both participants and audience members, a sense of awe is created through the experience of music being made together. This emotion leads to an enhanced sense of altruism, where our focus is expanded from the view of a singular being to that of our common humanity. Research has shown that people who experience this enhanced sense are generally more generous, more ethical and more helpful towards others.
Rode isn’t surprised by this. “There’s a beautiful moment just before every song starts. Where everyone gets ready, focuses together, and takes that first breath together. That breath of life just before the song starts, and there is the sense from everyone in the room that it is the start of musical life. . .there’s a real palpable energy, and with any song, that’s always the moment where I know right away that we’re all telling the story together, we’re all here together.”
Feature photo of Musicata: Hamilton’s Voices courtesy of Craig Logue.