I’m thrilled to welcome Jennifer Ryan, author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir to Linda’s Book Bag today to help celebrate the publication of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir with a guest post all about the importance of choirs!
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was published on 23rd February 2017 by Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins and is available for purchase here.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
The village of Chilbury in Kent is about to ring in some changes.
This is a delightful novel of wartime gumption and village spirit that will make your heart sing out.
In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.
But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.
Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.
Uplifting and profoundly moving, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.
Hallelujah for Choirs
A Guest Post by Jennifer Ryan
When I was growing up, we had a jovial grandmother who we called Party Granny, and she loved nothing better than a good sing-song, telling us frequently that without her trusty choir they’d “never have made it through the Second World War”. They sang through the Battle of Britain, through the heartbreak of separation and death of husbands and sons on the front, and through the days after the town was bombed to smithereens, taking several much-loved locals with it. It wasn’t a large choir or, for that matter, a terribly good one.
“We made everyone laugh we were so awful,” Party Granny would chortle. “But it was the trying that counted. It made us feel better, knowing we were together. Knowing that if anything happened, there’d be a chorus of women backing you up, offering warmth, support, and a jarringly off-kilter rendition of ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’.”
But how? I found myself asking. What exactly was it in Party Granny’s choir experience that made it such an uplifting, bonding experience? I decided to dig around and find some answers.
The first answer I found in my search was, of course, hormones. I say of course because I feel that I already knew that, mostly from singing along to the radio in the car. That feeling of a wonderful buzz of, well, what is it?
Endorphins. They’re the ones produced in the pituitary gland as a form of uplifting reward, making us feel on top of the world. They are usually released to stop us from feeling pain when, for example, we are running a marathon, providing a euphoric high not unlike opioids—in fact, the very term endorphin is made out of the words endogenous and morphine: a morphine made by naturally by the body.
Oxytocin is another hormone linked with singing. It lessens anxiety and enhances social bonding, making us feel at one with the world. But hold on a minute! Where have I heard that word oxytocin? Isn’t it the drug used to induce labor during childbirth?
Yes, that’s the one. It’s the hormone produced during labor and breastfeeding, which explains the social-bonding element: mothers need to bond with their babies. A number of scientific studies have found a rise in oxytocin in choristers’ saliva after singing, which might explain why choir members bond as easily as they do.
In contrast, Cortisol—the stress hormone—has been found to decrease with song. Every time we feel that fight or flight reaction, a surge of cortisol is produced, along with adrenaline, causing our body to stop everything and prepare for the fight. This, of course, is rather disastrous for all the other bodily processes, which have to wait until the cortisol wears off to get back to normal. Singing helps to take us out of fight or flight mode, letting our bodies get back to their usual business and making us feel a lot better along the way.
Odd as it may sound, another study found that, after group singing, the singers’ heartbeats become synchronized, like a type of guided group meditation. No wonder singing together makes us feel bonded.
“I thought it was about breathing, all that oxygen surging through our bodies,” Party Granny would ponder.
There is that, and the physical workout it gives your lungs, back, and posture.
So it’s not surprising that people who belong to choirs get a positivity boost. Studies in the UK and Australia have found that if you sing in a choir you are less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness. Having an hour or two focusing on a creative outlet is well known to be beneficial in reducing stress, and learning new songs and techniques gives the brain a good workout too.
The music itself can be uplifting too, the chords and soaring notes reminding us of life’s ups and downs, according to musical theorist David Teie. Beautiful choral music can bring us out of everyday problems and help us to feel the joy of being alive.
“We all had such a good laugh,” Party Granny told me. “We weren’t even good singers. It was all about cheering ourselves up. Showing everyone that whatever happened, bombs or death of a loved one overseas, we’d always be there, singing.”
And perhaps that is the unscientific part: that feeling that we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves. Something big enough to help us through our own wars and heartbreaks.
About Jennifer Ryan
Jennifer Ryan worked as an editor for nonfiction books in London, but once she had married and moved to Washington, DC, she began to write voraciously, and having taken time off work to have children, she found the space and time to write her first novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. It took five years of hearty researching, writing, and reworking, and Jennifer hopes that you enjoy reading it as much as she loved creating it.
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