Discover the value of singing and see the heart and lungs in action

10 May 2018

Over 400 years ago the renowned Elizabethan composer, William Byrd, wrote in his preface for the first great English Songbook a list of reasons to “perusade everyone to sing”.

Some of these included the benefits to health of singing. Over 400 years later the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, at Canterbury Christ Church University, will demonstrate scientifically how Byrd’s views were centuries ahead of their time.

Live demonstrations (using electronic equipment and singers) will give us a unique insight into how communal singing has the potential to benefit both physical and mental wellbeing, showing what actually happens to our hearts and lungs when we sing together.

The performances are part of a unique event to be hosted by the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), in partnership with Professor Stephen Clift, Director of the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, and fellow academics from the Universities of York and Kent.

Professor Clift has led numerous research projects which have demonstrated a connection between arts and wellbeing. He said: “It’s an intriguing concept that over 400 years ago the composer William Byrd believed that singing could provide physical and emotional benefits. The research we have been conducting at the centre has now proven this. So, we are delighted to show, through the use of new technology, the real-time evidence of what happens to the heart and lungs and the implications that can have upon wellbeing.

“The performers will be wearing heart monitors, their heartbeat patterns displayed onscreen. As they progress through their performance the patterns will start to synchronise. This unconscious syncronisation of heartbeats signals a bonding of the group of singers which has shown to help calm people, feel less isolated and so help with their emotional wellbeing.”

The second performance at the Singing for Health Conference will show how the lungs inflate and deflate whilst singing, with performers wearing t-shirts with grid patterns projected from a light onto their chests.

Professor Clift explained: “This technique is called structured light plethysmography. As they sing the movements on the grid are recorded, measured and processed to form information on lung function, showing how the chest cavity moves and how deeply someone breaths. This information is also displayed onscreen. This technique is useful in our research as we can measure the effects singing can have upon lung function over time, and for people with lung disease such as COPD, it can show the positive impact singing has had upon their lungs.”

Over the past year, the NCEM has also been offering a community engagement wellbeing programme in York, called Cuppa & a Chorus. Following discussions with Professor Clift, the NCEM, supported by The City of York Council, launched the programme as part of Culture and Wellbeing in York. A pilot of six initial sessions showed positive results, with significant emotional improvements experienced by participants and continues to enjoy success, promoting the physical and emotional benefits of singing to the city.

Dr Delma Tomlin, Director of the NCEM, said: “Our Cuppa & a Chorus programme has achieved wonderful results for people within our local communities. Programmes such as this are part of an ever-growing commitment that arts organisations are demonstrating to supporting public wellbeing through arts and culture. So we are delighted to be working once again with Professor Clift and other colleagues from the Universities of York and Kent to host this unique one day event.

“The NCEM is also the national advocate of Early Music, believing that the study of music from centuries ago can give us a fascinating insight into our cultural and social history. So with this day, we can show through modern technology just how forward-thinking were the views of England’s greatest 16th century composer.”

The Singing for Health Conference, takes place on Thursday, 7 June 2018 (10am – 4pm) at the National Centre for Early Music, York. For more information or to book your place visit: .


Notes to editors

Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health

The centre is committed to researching the potential value of music, and other participative arts activities, in the promotion of wellbeing and health of individuals and communities, and continues to build the case for Singing on Prescription.

The centre’s research has shown that group singing has positive benefits for people with enduring mental health issues and people with COPD.

The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM)

The NCEM is an educational music charity based in St Margaret's, a medieval converted church in the heart of York. The church was restored and converted into the NCEM in 2000, winning a variety of major conservation awards. The NCEM promotes St Margaret's as a significant venue for music and creative learning, embracing over 100 folk, jazz, digital and contemporary music concerts. 

The NCEM is the national advocate of early music in England, providing experiences and opportunities of the highest quality to an ever widening and diversified community, running an ambitious national programme including the prestigious York Early Music Festival, the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival and the York Early Music Christmas Festival. The NCEM has partnerships with festivals and conservatoires across Europe designed to support emerging early music ensembles and boasts two major competitions, which encourage talented young composers and gifted early music specialists - the NCEM Composers Award and the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition. These major events attract national and international interest and are supported by BBC Radio 3 and some of the finest musicians in the world.

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a dynamic and innovative university, supporting all students to gain an outstanding education and enjoy an excellent student experience.

It is actively involved in public life, from its role in influencing national policy and practice to addressing real-world challenges through teaching and research.

96% of the University’s most recent UK undergraduates and 98% of postgraduates were in employment or study six months after completing their studies (includes full-time and part-time); higher than the national average, 9 out of 10 of employed graduates are also in graduate-level jobs three-and-a-half years after finishing their studies.

It is a multi-campus university with 16,200 students studying a wide range of courses across Kent and Medway, with graduates teaching in schools, providing health and social care in the community, helping businesses to flourish and injecting talent into creative industries.

It received a Silver rating for teaching excellence in 2017, a significant national endorsement of its high-quality and transformative education and is investing significantly in the student experience for future generations. This includes a £150 million campus development to support curriculum expansion in engineering and technology, and a new arts building to promote careers in the creative industries.


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Last edited: 14/12/2018 23:41:00