The Power of Singing to Change Lives

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Friday, December 9, 2016 - 15:51

Singing has huge power to improve physical and mental wellbeing. It releases muscle tension, reduces stress levels and depression, and has even been shown to help in maintaining a healthy immune system. Communal singing also offers a great sense of community and the chance to build life-long friendships.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that two charities use singing to help people who have experienced homelessness change their lives.

Streetwise Opera

An award-winning charity that uses music to help people make positive changes in their lives, Streetwise Opera works with people who have experienced homelessness and other members of the community. It runs workshop programmes in London, Middlesbrough, Nottingham, Newcastle/Gateshead and Manchester, and stages critically-acclaimed operas. Its weekly singing and acting workshops on Wednesdays at Southbank Centre are open to anyone who would benefit from a boost in confidence. Streetwise Opera also runs With One Voice, the world’s first arts and homelessness movement.

Choir With No Name

Running choirs in London, Liverpool and Birmingham for people who’ve been affected by homelessness or who are otherwise isolated or marginalised, Choir With No Name uses the power and multiple positive benefits of communal singing to help lift them from those circumstances and allow them to find – or re-find – their place in the world.

The reasons why someone might become homeless, and the challenges they face once in that position, are about much more than a lack of housing. People often have a range of additional challenges, including mental health problems, relationship breakdowns and bereavement, and alcohol and drug addiction. Even when rehoused, they may feel alone and socially isolated.

The first rung on the ladder

Involvement with Streetwise Opera and the Choir With No Name can be the first rung on a ladder of self-confidence. Through working in a safe and supportive group and singing in a group, people's beliefs about their capabilities are fundamentally challenged and changed. By developing new skills, meeting others, being creative and simply having fun, people feel better about themselves, gain a sense of identity, and are more able to take on life's other challenges – such as engaging with NHS or rehab services, living independently, getting involved with community life and securing employment.

Many of Streetwise Opera and the Choir With No Name’s members describe the groups as ‘family’. It’s so much more than just a group of people coming together once a week to sing – they are also a life-changing support network and a huge catalyst for positive change.

One of Choir With No Name’s North London choir members, Ronnie, shares his experiences:

‘The crucial thing is that singing makes you feel good. No matter how bad your week’s been, you go to choir, have a sing and you feel better. I was sleeping rough and then moved into a notorious hostel barely fit for human habitation. I’ve had depression all my life, so I was at my lowest point at that time. The Choir With No Name gave me hope and optimism.’

Streetwise Opera’s performers are equally positive:

‘Streetwise is like a family to me. My confidence and self-esteem are now through the roof’
‘I can come in a down-hearted mood but I always leave with a smile on my face’