A Healthful Addiction?

13

May 23, 2015 by Jean

sheet musicIs it possible to be addicted to something that is good for you? If you are, does it become too much of a good thing? I’ve sometimes wondered this about my heavy consumption of tea. I felt both relieved and smug when scientists began to report the health benefits of drinking tea; it turned out that my most serious addiction was good for me. Since then, though, I’ve noticed that when doctors ask me just how much tea I drink and I tell them, their eyes pop open – suggesting that this may be too much of a good thing.

The addiction that’s on my mind these days, though, isn’t tea but singing. Specifically, singing in a group. In the 46 years since I graduated from college and stopped the kind of choral singing I did throughout my school years, I can’t say that I was aware of missing it. Well, maybe an occasional bit of wistful longing –but no sense of a big hole in my life. Nevertheless, in the two months since I began the creative aging singing workshop at the Portland Public Library, I have gotten hooked. Our workshop director is fond of sending us links to articles about the beneficial effects of singing on aging brains, so there seems to be evidence that this is a healthful addiction; but it is an addiction all the same.

Our singing workshop is about to come to a close; we have one class left this coming week and then a performance the week after that. And then it will be over. As I contemplate this ending, I am filled with a sense of loss. I can sing on my own and have done so almost every day of my life. (According to my mother’s reports, I was two when I acquired a little golden book of nursery songs. Although I couldn’t read yet, I would open the book to a page, look at the picture on that page, and sing the associated song.) What I can’t do on my own is sing in multi-part harmony. Okay, I can (and do) sing harmony with recordings by favorite singers. But what I have gotten addicted (re-addicted?) to is the feel and sound of standing side by side with other singers and hearing the twining of our voices singing different parts. My favorite moments in our upcoming choral performance are when I get to sing one of three parts in a trio performance of a Finnish folk song, “Who Can Sail?” and singing one of the four parts in Sinead O’Connor’s beautiful arrangement of the Irish ballad “In This Heart.”

So, like an addict, I am worrying about where my next fix will come from. Some members of our little choral group have been brainstorming ways to raise the funds to keep the workshop going for another session in the fall. I have also been looking online for information about community choruses in my area. The only choral group close to my home is The Androscoggin Chorale, a serious group that sings serious classical music and accepts new members only through an audition process. I think I could pass the audition, but I don’t know how long it would take after that for a space to open up, and I’m not sure this level of seriousness is quite what I had in mind.

Recently, though, a friend pointed out to me that, since I am already traveling to Portland to sing, I could continue to do so; I don’t have to limit myself to what’s available in my local area. When I searched for choral groups in a larger geographic area, I found a much broader range of possibilities. I will continue to explore these possibilities and try to choose a singing opportunity that will continue to benefit my health while also filling my need for harmonizing.

Those who’d like a better sense of the kind of vocal harmonies I’m addicted to can click below to hear singer Erik Linder’s wonderful rendition of “In This Heart.”

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13 thoughts on “A Healthful Addiction?

  1. Oh there are worse things to be addicted to….I would say go with your addiction Jean….I would love to hear you sing!

  2. Charles F. Emmons says:

    You pick the best addictions, Jean. There is indeed lots of good research on the mental and other health benefits of performing (beyond listening to) music, at any age, no matter whether you’re any good or not. Thanks for that lovely Linder rendition. I think I’m going to go gargle some tea and then sing along with a George Harrison CD. – Charlie

    • Jean says:

      Charlie, I’m mesmerized by the Linder video, which I find both beautiful and fun. I love the choreography by which the various Eriks look at and gesture to one another and project different personalities. I’m singing along with Erik in the white shirt (upper right), but I find Erik in the winter clothes (lower right) the most endearing. When I open the video, YouTube now notes that I’ve watched it more than 50 times; embarrassing to have one’s obsessions so carefully documented!

  3. Deborah Gordon says:

    You make it too easy Jean! Just come and sing with me and let me be your second part :o)

  4. Jean R. says:

    I really enjoyed the link to Erik Linder’s singing!

    You do, indeed, have healthy addictions. Maybe you could use the MeetUp website to start a group for leisure-time singers in your area? Have you ever heard of Young@Heart? They’re a New England chorus of senior citizens that’s been around for decades, been on TV and is the subject of a documentary. They are performing here at performance arts center this summer (in front of 2400 people). I’ve read that for brain exercise everyone should sing, do math, draw and write 15 minutes a day for each. There’s a fifth thing but I can’t remember what it is!

    Interesting side-ish note: When my husband was in speech therapy the professors at the college where he was used to train future speech pathologists said songs learned in early childhood are stored in a different part of the brain than speech. He could sing anything he learned before the age five and we had to sing them often through out the day in an attempt to kick start regular speech, so we’d sing the ABC’s, Jesus Love Me and Happy Birthday in the car, in the shower, etc.—the things you do for love. LOL

    • Jean says:

      Jean, Isn’t Linder amazing? When I hear him sing “a lark born only to you” all on one breath like that, it’s enough to make me swoon.
      Very interesting about the activities for brain health. I guess I’d better learn how to draw! Maybe the fifth thing is going for a 15-minute walk or reading for 15 minutes. I did know about the use of singing for helping in recovery from brain injuries; Gabby Giffords had music therapy to help recover her speech. I didn’t know it had to be music learned by age 5, though. I guess if I have a stroke, I’ll have to find a copy of that little golden book of nursery songs!

      • Jean R. says:

        I remember now. It was 15 minutes of reading.

        Not ALL music therapy has be songs learned before age five. People with less damaged brains than my husband can use songs that are stored in a different part of the brain than he had access to. But all stroke patients did have to know the words and music before the stroke to use it in an attempt to kick start regular speech.

  5. Diana Studer says:

    I wonder if you drink more tea than me? Only problem I have is the dentist telling me off for smoking too much.

    Have you heard of overtone singing?

    • Jean says:

      Diana, Ah, yes, the tea stain on the teeth problem. In this country, the dental hygienist cleans your teeth before the dentist looks in your mouth, so the dentist never sees the tea stains. Do you have a mug of tea at hand at all times when you are out working in the garden? If not, you probably don’t drink as much tea as I do. 😉

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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