It promotes your immune system, reduces cortisol, improves posture, endorphin levels and life as well as being commonly used in conjunction with dementia treatment. Perhaps the key to a long and happy life isn’t some new, well-branded health fad, but a practice that dates back to prehistory: communal singing. 

“In the beginning was the voice. Voice is sounding breath, the audible sign of life”, these words from Danish linguist Otto Jespersen, capture the life-affirming power of collective song. Singing, in its most primitive form, is thought to predate language itself. Singing together connects us both with others and with human nature.

Choirs come in many forms, and within Hampshire, there are plenty to pick from. You don’t have to read music, as in addition to traditional choirs, numerous local community choirs are teaching by call and response. For those comfortable with the spiritual element, there are a plethora of church choirs around, if not, there are many more secular groups too. 

There's a right place for everyone and plenty to gain from finding it. 

I visited St Peter’s Choir in Petersfield, to speak with their conductor, Mark Dancer, and some of their members, about the pull of choral singing, its influence and demographic. 

Two members I spoke with, Mike and Marcia, were interestingly involved in “opposing” fields, Marcia is a linguist and Mike studied maths at Cambridge. Both, however, believed their respective fields were deeply connected to music.

Marcia described, when asked about what drew her to the choir, the enjoyment she received through music, in sharing a common language with the person standing next to her, and admittedly I hadn’t considered it that way. Both reading music, and singing together as being a dialogue in another special language. 

Comparably, Mike took a senior role in his choir in Strasbourg, France, whilst living there. Further proving music’s ability to transcend boundaries, bringing people together through a common voice. 

One important question is whether community singing can overcome, not just the boundaries of language or state, but of generation. 

I imagined initially that the disconnect amongst today’s youth, due to the pandemic and their growing technological dependency, would’ve had a profound impact on their involvement in these groups, and maybe to some extent it has; Marcia tells me that when she joined seven years ago, there were eight children involved, who have gradually, for various reasons, left. But, as they take their positions, I spot one member of the choir still kitted out in school uniform. So perhaps there’s hope yet for this deeply rooted form of human connection.

Musical director Mark Dancer agrees; one boy being trained is only seven, and in his words “keen as mustard”.

I sit and listen for a while, and I witness when they join in song, some of that “buzz” Marcia described, and I feel slightly jealous that I’m not speaking that same language. 

They finish what they are singing, and their leader asks them, “happy?”

And they certainly seem to be.

The schedule of services at St Peter's can be found on their website

  • This article was written by Francesca Hartley from Peter Symonds College as part of Newsquest's Young Reporter Scheme.