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We all need joy in our lives

How wonderful it has been to sing together again in the build up to Christmas! Our latest Corra Sound concert, alongside virtuoso clarinettist Emma Johnson a few weeks ago, left us all on such a high and that feeling is a powerful reminder of the importance of making music, and of bringing joy and togetherness into our lives.

I am lucky enough to have a career that involves directing and facilitating choirs, spanning a secondary school chamber choir, choral society, work-place choir, mixed chamber choir and, of course, Corra Sound: a professional upper voice ensemble. Over the past eighteen months, it’s not been easy. The performing arts and singing in particular have been relentlessly subjected to divisive demonisation by government restrictions that have left us floundering. Now, slowly but surely, choir leaders are beginning to re-emerge from the shadows of unemployment and inactivity (the depressing attempts of Zoom rehearsals aside), to finally stand with their choirs again.

Choirs are socially bonding. They allow people the chance to really connect with others, forge friendships, express emotions through song, and to experience a rise in endocannabinoids, which increases the pleasure you derive from being around other people and reduces the social anxiety that can hinder connection. They help us to feel positive about ourselves and experience the synergy of singing success.

Harmony is never more powerful than in a choir, where the most you will need is perhaps a score or a word sheet. The focus is on you; the person, the sound as unique as a fingerprint, but as flexibly diverse as humanity. Multiply that many times and the result can literally be life-changing. That’s precisely why singing is socially prescribed; it’s a free high, and you are the instrument of its success.

Singers and clarinettist smiling after collaborative performance in St Mary's Church Guildford
Corra Sound and Emma Johnson, performing Songs of Celebration together at St Mary's Church, Guildford (2021)

For me, having directed several choral concerts in the last few weeks, I have felt genuine amazement and relief that they have all gone ahead even though the very real threat of Omicron has seen acceleration in the news and fear in the masses.

Here’s what I’ve noticed from these live choral events: people have bought tickets (the events were almost all a sell-out), audiences have turned up, their reactions have been immediate, positively audible and expressive, they have stood, clapped, cried and gasped at the pure joy and wonder of what they’ve heard. They’ve been exhilarated by sound, sound made simply by the human voice, expressive sound that shares a message of sorrow or reverence or elation or praise. They have been moved. By real life performance. Moved by carols they haven’t heard in two years and songs they’ve never heard before.

This sharing means so much to people, and we only fully realise its impact when we revisit it, after an imposed artistic starvation. We must not underestimate the profound impact of what happens to us when we deliver (artists) or receive (audience) a performance: pure joy.

When Corra Sound and Emma Johnson performed together at the end of November, this too was thankfully a sell-out. I can honestly say that by the end of the night, everyone in the ensemble (and hopefully in the audience too) felt re-ignited, re-inspired, replenished with the feel good factor we had been so sorely lacking during lockdowns and restricted times.

This is not a stand-alone occurrence. Colleagues are reporting the same reactions from their performances too. It’s reflected in Strictly’s recent series too – the joy, elation and thrill of live performance; communicating a message through the expressive arts; allowing ourselves to indulge in the joy of sound and movement. There is no better reason to engage in the arts.

Joy is available to us all, seeking it out is not selfish; neither is it reserved for those who are skilled or feel entitled to what some may think is purely frivolous pleasure. The arts are here for us all. And the joy we receive from it is richly rewarding. It is part and parcel of what makes us human. Don’t be embarrassed to embrace that joy; you deserve it.

Wishing you peace and joy this Christmas. Stay safe, kind and well!

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