People singing in a choir

10 May 2018

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

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: .



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Last edited: 15/01/2020 11:19:00