Author: Poling, Chuck

I Feel Like Singing Today

Jeanie and I recently participated in a sea chantey singalong at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier. Aboard the three-masted ship Balclutha we joined nearly a hundred other seaworthy souls in a rollicking good time. A song leader would quickly teach us the chorus and then launch into the verses. When the time came, all hands roared back with the chorus.

Inside what was once the ship’s mess, we felt an incredible energy generated by dozens of men, women, and children singing in full voice, holding back nothing. The sound resonated off the metal bulkheads and the vigorous foot-stamping added to the effect. It was fun, it was stimulating, it was magic.

Apparently it was also a very healthy thing to do. Much has been written and said about the health benefits of music. Now a study from Sweden has found when large groups of people sing together, their bodies respond – as a group – to the music.
According to the study:

“When people join their voices in song, their hearts come along for the group ride -- speeding up, slowing down and (figuratively) swelling in unison while much of the chorale's muscular movement and brain activity synchronizes as well. It's probably the same phenomenon experienced by field workers, worshipers, soldiers and attendees of sporting events through the ages. But it might also be harnessed for strengthening working relationships in teams and at schools, say the Swedish researchers who explored the effect of choral singing on cardiac synchrony.,0,560871.story

The study also points out that breathing techniques that singers use are similar to those used in yoga, aiding relaxation and even lowering blood pressure.

Beyond the physical benefits, group singing also gives individuals a sense of belonging to something bigger. It’s an activity in which almost anyone can participate, requires no formal training, and, as in the case of the sea chantey event, doesn’t necessarily require accompaniment by musical instruments.

Anyone who has participated in school or church choir has experienced the joy of working together with a large group to put together a song that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, and basses must all master their parts and then put them all together. They’ve got to stay on rhythm, synchronize their phrasing, and dynamically adjust their volume. The sense of accomplishment is equaled by a sense of community.

This is something that bluegrassers can relate to. Our entire community is based on the idea of sharing music with others. Bluegrass encourages participation – it’s a hands on experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if those Swedish doctors attended a bluegrass festival and noted the happy, healthy effects of a dozen people wailing away on Old Joe Clark.

I’ve been in a few old-time music jams that are almost spiritual. Everyone is playing the melody and when they get into a groove, there’s a kind of mystical, trance-like effect that reminds me of nothing so much as Sufi dancers twirling around until they’re utterly blessed out and fall down.

Being active in bluegrass also provides that feeling of belonging that is so important to a sense of well-being. California’s bluegrass community stretches across a lot of real estate, but it seems everybody knows everybody from Crescent City to Chula Vista and everywhere in between.

So everybody, let’s sing. Let’s throw our heads back and let ‘er rip. Sing loud, sing proud. Invite some friends over and make some noise. It’s good medicine.

Spoiler Alert! This is my final Welcome Column for the CBA. After reviewing how many monthly commitments I have, I figured something had to give and, unfortunately, this column was among the casualties. I will, however, continue to write my Bluegrass Confidential column for the Bluegrass Breakdown. Keep an eye out for the September issue, where I cross pens with master storyteller Bill Amatneek.

Posted:  8/26/2013

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email