I Joined a Britpop Choir and It's Amazing Therapy

Sometimes I think I can physically feel my brain chemistry changing when we're in the middle of a song.
Publish date:
June 13, 2014
music, therapy, singing, harmony, choirs

I’ve been dealing with some unforeseen changes and stressful unknowns in the last couple of weeks. Some of those unknowns are money-related, and isn’t that always the way? Just when your stress is at a level that really calls for some professional help, you’re not in the financial position to get it, which is part of why you’re so stressed. Yay, life stuff.

Just as my fan was getting hit, one of my best friends, Colleen, mentioned on Facebook that a new session of the Britpop Choir she joined was starting in a few days. I must do this, I thought. I asked her for the details and told her I’d meet her there.

Colleen had joined the choir when she was in a rut. “You know, that feeling when you’re sick of yourself and you just want to break out and do something completely out of character?” she wrote for Archetypes. She wanted to join to discover a new part of herself.

I, on the other hand, wanted to join because it was very much in character for me, even though I hadn't been in a choir since high school. There’s nothing I love more than singing, but it’s something I almost never do.

I'm a trained singer, but I’m weird about singing in front of people. If I’m describing a song to someone and they ask, “How does it go?” I freeze up. I can’t sing in front of just one person or even casually in my apartment if I think my neighbors might hear me (in my defense, they're professional musicians). If I’m at a packed karaoke bar and have a couple drinks in me, however, I’m perfectly comfortable.

I do karaoke only once in a while, though, so one of my favorite things to do goes undone far too often. I was hoping that letting myself do something I love -- sing among a bunch of strangers (and Colleen) -- every Monday night would have a therapeutic effect.

I was right.

As soon as I got to the first rehearsal, I could tell it was a nonjudgmental space. There were 17 people there, including me, Colleen and founder, director and pure delight of a human being, Charlie Adams.

A young, British, self-proclaimed “total harmony geek,” Charlie immediately seemed more like a friend than, say, a stern middle-school chorus teacher. She also immediately told us that there wouldn’t necessarily be much Brit in this session of Britpop Choir, and she passed out the words to Daft Punk and Pharrell’s “Get Lucky.”

Charlie asked us to sit according to our vocal range, and even though I can sing anywhere from soprano to tenor, I decided to sit wherever Colleen was going to sit, which was a vaguely alto-ish section. I was actually really nervous about this because, one, I'm always anxious about singing right next to a friend, and two, as much as I, too, am a harmony geek, I've always struggled with carrying harmony under the melody. This would be an interesting challenge.

The biggest challenge, however, has been not cracking up when Colleen does. Just as we'd gotten comfortable with the doot-doos (technical term) in one of the songs we were learning, I heard her laughing, and when I asked why, she said, "I can't stop thinking about how this would be the part in Law & Order when they come in and arrest one of us."

When I wasn't giggling, I was in awe of how quickly the songs were coming together. Broken into as many as six parts, the arrangements Charlie had prepared on her MacBook seemed to come pretty naturally to the group. Although the choir is open to singers of all levels, I felt surrounded by quick but patient learners.

"Makes sense, right?" Charlie would say when we'd sing our respective parts all together for the first time. And it did.

If you're the type of person who gets all tingly when they hear beautifully layered harmony -- I'm that person who hasn't even seen "Les Misérables" but can be reduced to tears hearing the last bellow of tomorrow comes in "Do You Hear The People Sing?" -- you can probably understand how magical it is when you're contributing to that harmony. You almost can't believe you're a factor in that sound, that you're holding your own while simultaneously enjoying the sum of the parts. Sometimes I think I can physically feel my brain chemistry changing when we're in the middle of a song.

I've gone to only two rehearsals so far, and we don't have a set date for a performance at the end of this session just yet, but I wouldn't even care if we didn't do a concert. I've so thoroughly enjoyed -- and so thoroughly needed -- practicing the three songs we've learned so far, I could keep doing exactly that indefinitely.

Here's 15 Instagram seconds of our second rehearsal:

In addition to the natural therapy of making music, having a set weekly time to hang out with one of my favorite people has boosted my happiness, too. Colleen and I used to see each other every single day -- we shared an office at a company we've both since left -- and I really missed her! This has been a really positive way to push myself to be more social.

While it may not compare to the long-term benefits of something like cognitive behavioral therapy, this new weekly hobby of mine is doing only good things for me, and I'd recommend it -- or something like it -- to anyone who needs a healthy diversion during a tough time. And at just $12 a week, it's one less thing to stress about.