The benefits of singing in a choir and why I sing with a Georgian polyphonic choir


Choir singing ‘boosts your mental health’

Georgia is one of the first countries not only in the Orthodox world, but in the whole Christendom, that has laid a foundation for multi-voiced sacred music.

The Telegraph,, Friday 05 June 2015,

Part one – Choir singing ‘boosts your mental health’

There is a growing body of evidence which claims that singing as part of a group can have a range of health benefits.

Singing in a choir can boost your mental health, a new study has found.

Researchers carried out an online survey of 375 people who sang in choirs, sang alone, or played team sports.

All three activities yielded high levels of psychological well-being – but choristers stood out as experiencing the greatest benefit.

The findings could help develop low cost treatment to improve people’s well-being, researchers suggest.

Compared with the way sports players regarded their teams, choral singers also viewed their choirs as more coherent or “meaningful”.

Once reserved for the church pews, the groups are becoming increasingly popular, buoyed by programmes such as Gareth Malone’s The Choir, which follows the London Symphony Orchestra choirmaster as he tries to train groups.

Nick Stewart, from Oxford Brookes University, who led the study, said: “Research has already suggested that joining a choir could be a cost-effective way to improve people’s well-being. Yet we know surprisingly little about how the well-being effects of choral singing are brought about.

“These findings suggest that feeling part of a cohesive social group can add to the experience of using your voice to make music.”

While the feel-good effects of singing have long been recognised, there is growing evidence that it can have a positive impact on a range of physical and psychological conditions, leading to campaigns for singing on prescription.

In previous studies experts claimed that joining a choir could improve symptoms of Parkinson’s, depression and lung disease.

Swedish research has suggested that it not only increases oxygen levels in the blood but triggers the release of “happy” hormones such as oxytocin, which is thought to help lower stress levels and blood pressure.

A year long study on people with mental health problems, carried out by the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, Canterbury, has also shown the some 60 per cent of participants had less mental distress when retested a year after joining, with some people no longer fulfilling diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.

Mr Stewart will present the findings at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology in York today.

The fact that the group, made of 197 women and 178 men, found singing in a choir was “significantly” more effective at improving their mood than a team sport could be down to the synchronicity of the activity, Mr Stewart said.

“The implications may be that any activity we do as part of a group is particularly enjoyable”, he said.

“But people who sang in a choir had a stronger sense of being part of a meaningful group and there is a suggestion that there is something unique about the synchronicity of moving and breathing with other people.”

Previous studies have found that a group of singers actually synchronise their heart beats.

He said further research needs to carried out to establish why singing in a group had such powerful effect, adding: “At the moment it is speculative, but it could be that singing in a group gives us something that we have lost as a society.”

The findings echo the experiences of Siobhan Patten, a social worker for Birmingham Council who featured on The Choir: Sing While You Work last month.

She told the Guardian: “It was a cathartic moment for me when I realised that I had an outlet for all the emotions I was carrying, and the choir became my much-needed therapy. I had never before realised the incredible healing powers of music.”

Part two – Georgian choir singing

International research centre for traditional ployphony for Tibilisi State Conservatory

Georgian folk music is a living yet ancient tradition. Most songs, both sacred and secular, are sung unaccompanied in three-part harmony, symbolically associated with the Trinity. Unlike western music, the Georgian scale is based on the fifth rather than the octave. There are considerable regional differences in singing styles, and some songs, particularly from the Caucasus Mountains in the north of the country, are known to date from pre-Christian times.

Singing is an essential component of Georgia’s legendary hospitality and comprises a major part of the Georgian feast or supra. A supra can last for several hours and will include long and eloquent toasts, each followed by an appropriate song. There is considerable interest in Georgian singing among the young people of the country and all the major choirs support youth choirs of a high standard, whose members keep the tradition going.

Georgian traditional polyphony is the most significant of all stylistic features of the national musical language that significantly define the originality and expression of Georgian musical thinking. Multi-voiced singing is not characteristic of Georgians only. Georgian folk music attracts the attention of experts for the diversity of forms. Each form has extraordinary and complex harmonic or contrapuntal combination created by the interrelation of voices. According to Boris Assafiev Georgian polyphony is perceived as “a wonderful phenomenon that inspires to worship the musical genius of the Georgian people”. We can say, that multi-voiced singing and choral character are the most remarkable features of Georgian musical thinking.

Georgian polyphonic songs (two-, three- and four-voiced) are characterized by the variety of texture. Here we will discuss only the basic forms of Georgian polyphony.

Homophonic multi-voiced singing is one of the most widespread forms in Georgian folk music. Here the accompaniment is performed by a long bass drone or repeated short intonation formula. As for the high, melodic voices, they are built either on the principles of interchangeability, parallelism or polyphonic (contrapuntal) combinations. The form of homophonic multi-voiced singing is mainly common to the eastern regions of Georgia, especially to Kartli-Kakhetian musical dialects.

Rachans and Svans, living in southern parts of the West Caucasus, have preserved the archaic and original form of polyphony where the movement of all three voices is characterized by the rhythmic synchronism and compact sonority. This form is distinguished by the movement of distinct vertical consonances – chordal complexes.

The above-mentioned form of polyphony is common to almost all musical dialects of Western Georgia, but for some reasons, in lowland regions (Imereti, Samegrelo, Achara and Guria) it has undergone certain transformation; each of the voices has gained more independence and has created its own melodic line. The contrasting opposition of voices has created colourful consonances, most of which, are dissonances, from the standpoint of classical music theory.

In this respect Gurian musical dialect is most interesting and has been regarded by many specialists as the crown of the folk polyphony. A surprisingly original high voice in some Gurian songs – krimanchuli should be mentioned. It is performed in falsetto and reminds of the Alpine yodel. Igor Stravinsky, amazed by krimanchuli, wrote: “Yodel, called krimanchuli in Georgian, is the best among those that I have heard”.

Very often the features of various forms of multi-voiced singing are organically blended in Georgian musical folklore. This form of polyphony is called synthesized.

The historical, geographic, social, political, economic and other conditions facilitated the process of differentiation of the general Georgian musical root-language over the centuries; different musical dialects emerged. The study of Georgian musical folklore distinguishes the following dialects:

Eastern Georgia : Khevsuretian, Pshavian, Tushetian, Mtiuletian, Gudamaqarian, Mokhevian, Kartlian, Kakhetian and Ingiloian;

Western Georgia : Rachan, Svanetian, Lechkhumian, Imeretian, Gurian, Megrelian and Acharan.

Southern Georgia : Meskhetian, Shavshetian and Laz.

Each dialect has its own intonation, stylistic features, manner of performance and any type of multi-voiced singing. Thanks to their local qualities these dialects have enriched and diversified the national musical treasure. Despite the clear difference in musical linguistics and stylistics of some dialects, a careful listener will easily notice that their mode-harmonic scale and intonation have originated from one (and the same) root.

The dialectic qualities and genre variety have conditioned the creation of mode-melodic diversity of the Georgian song. Sentimentalism and pessimism are common neither to the ideological and semantic side nor to the emotional world of the song. Masculine, chivalrous beginning dominates in Georgian songs. And so, homogeneous, mainly men’s performance is typical for Georgian vocal culture.

The harmonic language of Georgian folk music is also rich. Melodic movement of voices creates harmonic constructions, which dramatically differ from the classical major and minor systems by the principle of interval structure. Diverse and compact sonority of the interval structure of consonances, gives entirely original national colouring to the harmonic language.

Diverse and highly developed modulation systems are very important in Georgian folk music. Their perfect and refined forms speak of the high level of Georgian folk musical thinking. Modulation systems and modulating cadences make Georgian singing clearly distinguished from the general principles of folk art.

Forms of singing, found in highly developed compositions, mainly in table songs and three- and four-voiced naduri (work songs) can be regarded as another unusual phenomenon. Thanks to the intensive dynamics, alternation of variants, cyclic character and contrast of the parts these forms display wide musical construction.

Georgian folk music has been polyphonic since ancient times. It is not surprising that secular polyphonic song, born in heathen times, had great impact on the conception and development of the multi-voiced forms in Georgian Christian hymns. We agree to the supposition that Georgia is one of the first countries not only in the Orthodox world, but in the whole Christendom, that has laid a foundation for multi-voiced sacred music.






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