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Forte: What’s in a song? Singing in a group fosters social closeness

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YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Yakima Symphony Orchestra shared the stage last weekend with two choral groups, the Yakima Symphony Chorus and the Yakima Children’s Choir, highlighting the earliest expression of music: singing.

With the voice as the original musical instrument, there is no human culture, no matter how remote or isolated, that does not sing. Singing, as the vocal production of musical tones, predates the development of spoken language.

The earliest singing was likely a simple imitation of the sounds heard in nature. Over time, the sounds developed and became more intentional, with patterns and melodies and the ability to be sung in unison. And while the development of song or singing was noteworthy, the development of people’s ability to sing together was transformative.

“Music has positive effects on people’s emotions and creativity,” said Don McMannis, an expert on children’s music. “When we sing together, we synchronize our breathing and feel more connected.”

A 2016 study by Daniel Weinstein and colleagues explored group music-making in depth, comparing the effects of singing together in a small choir (20 to 80 people) versus a larger choir (232 people) on measures of closeness and on pain thresholds. While both choir groups increased their pain threshold levels after singing, and levels of social closeness were greater across rehearsals for both choirs, the larger group experienced bigger changes in social closeness after singing than the smaller group.

This suggests that singing, even with a large group in which individuals are not known to each other, can foster social closeness.

A 1971 advertising campaign from Coca-Cola understood this loud and clear, drawing people around the globe into a commercial to sing a now-iconic melody, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” The song version of this commercial continues to be performed these many years later in school glee clubs and church choirs.

The YSO, Yakima Symphony Chorus, Yakima Children’s Choir and audiences concluded last week’s Holiday Pops Spectacular concerts with a traditional holiday sing-a-long, and we’re all a little closer for it.

There are even more delightful vocal performances ahead during the holidays, including the Canticus Vocal Choral Ensemble, which will perform “Music of the Season” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday at The Seasons Performance Hall, 101 N Naches Ave. in Yakima; and Charlie and Al’s “Holiday Cabaret” on Dec. 12 as part of The Capitol Theatre’s “Fourth Street Features” series.

• This column was written by Yakima Symphony Orchestra staff. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.

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