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Clement's Corner: An Unexpected Reward

Owen Clement agrees with the statement that there is nothing like singing for generating that feel-good factor.

My rewards in life have been manifold; too many to state here. There is one however, that was both unexpected and long-lasting.

I had suffered a major breakdown caused by a failed business venture where I could have lost everything I owned, including my home and the mortgage yet to be paid. It was only through the goodwill of my two partners who continued to manage the business until matters could be settled that this catastrophe was averted.

At about this time I was invited to join a classical choir. I had said that I had only a rudimentary understanding of reading music which I had learned as a child, but I was assured that this would not be a handicap, as others in the choir had even less knowledg.

‘The Prince James Singers’ was conducted by Margaret England, a highly trained musician, who had given up her career for marriage and motherhood. We used the basement of Margaret’s home on Prince James Avenue in Coffs Harbour. The choir numbers varied from sixteen to twenty. I enjoyed being in the choir for over eight years.

Our works were wide and varied; they ranged from ancient airs and madrigals to contemporary works, from oratorios to requiems and traditional music, to regional and national music from all over the world sung in their own language. It was hard work with many hours of rehearsals and study.

As singers, we had to think constantly about the kind of sound we were making and the kind of sensations that are felt while singing. Each voice had to meld with our fellow singers. Our vocal exercises had several purposes, including warming up the voice, extending the vocal range and acquiring various other vocal techniques.

The choir took part in local Eisteddfods; gave concerts and tackled major works like both Brahms ‘German’ Requiem and Mozart’s Requiem. We also performed a short opera, ‘Amahl and the night visitors,’ by Carl Menotti in which I had a solo part.

It fascinated me to learn about the history of singing. Madrigals, for example, were sung a Capella without any rehearsing. A sheet of music was folded so that four sides could be faced out. One side would be for sopranos, one for altos, one for tenors and the last for basses. Each group would face their score and perform; quite often to the aristocracy.

The culmination for me came with a combined orchestra and choir production of George Frederick Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with the Kempsey and Bellingen Singers. Included were four soloists from the Sydney Music Conservatorium. The one and only performance from memory took place at the Anglican Cathedral in Coffs Harbour.

The standard, according to some members of the audience, was equal to if not better than some they had heard performed by professionals.

I was so moved by the experience at the end, I could not speak for at least five minutes. The ecstasy of the complex harmony and the nuances of the rise and fall of the music and voices in that acoustically enhanced space could only be described as ethereal.

‘There is nothing like singing for generating that feel good factor. It's almost indescribable,’ says singer and singing coach Helen Astrid. ‘It's an incredible endorphin rush. You feel like you've got a spring in your step. You feel like you're being totally true to yourself. It is like making love in a way. You're using your whole body, everything is involved.’

Scientific study suggests that singing can have positive effects on people's health. A preliminary study based on self-reported data from a survey of students participating in choral singing found many benefits including increased lung capacity, improved mood, stress reduction, as well as perceived social and spiritual benefits. Singing may positively influence the immune system through the reduction of stress. One study found that both singing and listening to choral music reduces the level of stress hormones and increases immune function.

And so it was with me.


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