Center for
Lifelong Music Making

 

Sing for Your Life!

Amazing Benefits of Music-Making

 Ann C. Kay


[Access PowerPoint slides at end of the speech below]

[SLIDE]

I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing.
~William James

All sing "Good Morning” song (by Avon Gillespie), and “Sing, Sing, Together” in a round.

[SLIDE]

In my newspaper, I saw this photo of an incredibly happy-looking 113-year-old woman named Kaku Yamanaka—the oldest woman in Japan. The caption said, “She kept young by singing and taking part in karaoke contests.” I put her photo on my frig, saluted her, and said, “Kaku, I pledge to tell others about you, and spread the message that singing keeps people vital and young.”

[SLIDE]

So, the title of this presentation is Sing for Your Life. It has two meanings: 1) sing for better vitality, health, well being, brain development, socialization, academic achievement, and maybe like Kaku, even longevity, and 2) sing for our entire lifetimes.

[SLIDE]

When you walked in the door, if we had hooked your heads to MRI machines, we’d surely see activity, but as you sang and moved, your brains lit up like fireworks because music making activates neurons in more regions of the brain than any other single activity. VA-VOOM!  It’s like a jolt of lightning. We wake up!  We vibrate and energize. We become less stressed, more focused, and higher achieving. In short, we thrive.

Paired/Share Exercise–Share a childhood experience you had with singing or singing games with the person next to you.

Perhaps you told of a happy experience, but some of you may have shared something that was emotionally painful. Many people tell me that early in life someone told them that they didn’t sing well. Or their music teacher asked them to mouth the words during a concert.

 [SLIDE]

So, to adults who don’t sing well in tune, I say, “Do you remember what happened when you were learning how to ride a bike? They say, “I fell off.” So, your dad or whoever was helping you said, “Don’t get back on that bike, you didn’t get the balance gene!” No, that’s not what he said. He said, “Keep trying.” And, one day after lots of practice and maybe training wheels, you got balance. Singing in tune is like balance. You have to practice, but once you get it, you’ve got it for your whole life. Everyperson can learn to sing in tune unless they are deaf (.15% of children) or have congenital amusia, the inability to process sound (2-4%). So, that means 96-98% of the population can learn to match pitch and sing in tune. But, they don’t.

The only National Assessment for Educational Progress that assessed adult singing was in 1971. 60% could not sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee well in tune, 85% could not play an instrument, and 88% could not read music. The nine-year-olds tested at that time were not as good as the adults—80% of them (compared to 60% of adults) couldn’t sing well in tune. So, singing improves with practice and age.

[SLIDE]

It’s not surprising to me that children don’t sing well because in our country most receive little or no skills-based music instruction. They are primarily taught about music rather than how to make it well. On this “general music track” 2/3 of students drop out of school music by age 13. High schools teach music to those who choose it and whose parents afford instruments and lessons. The result? A musically incompetent population. Who can remember the last time you heard “Happy Birthday” sung in tune in a restaurant?

I once took a job teaching 7th grade General Music with the agreement that I could create a course based on active music making rather than teach the district’s curriculum: three weeks about the Beatles, three weeks about opera…you get the idea. I told the principal that there are no General Math appreciation courses where the teacher says:

[SLIDE]

“Welcome! In this course, you’ll learn to appreciate math. We’ll admire Einstein’s famous formula E=mc², learn about his personal life, and dress up and give one of his famous speeches.” And, when a student asks, “Are we ever going to do math?” the teacher says, “Sorry, you’ve signed up for the wrong course.”

So, why do music teachers teach about music rather than teaching skills so that students become competent, just like in math? Given the tremendous benefits of music making, this is a problem.

[SLIDE]

Over fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy named a national problem: “We are under exercised as a nation. We look instead of play. We ride instead of walk. Our existence deprives ourselves of the minimum of physical activity necessary for healthy living.” What was Kennedy’s solution?

[SLIDE]

The U.S. Physical Fitness Program. It was sent to every school in the nation with a record of Robert Preston, star of the musical The Music Man, singing the song “Chicken Fat.” This is what we did in gym class [Do physical exercises and sing while the song plays.]

Combining exercising with singing was genius! Kennedy asked every school to get students moving vigorously at least 15 minutes every day, identify those who need special help and provide remediation, and use valid tests to assess progress. This launched a fitness revolution.

[SLIDE]

So, what if we were to re-phrase Kennedy’s words to state a current national problem? “We are under achieving as a nation. We watch instead of sing. We listen instead of play. Our existence deprives ourselves of the minimum of musical activity necessary for healthy living.”

[SLIDE]

The solution? The U.S. Musical Fitness Program toget people singing daily and provide every student with sequential, skills-based instruction from music teachers in the schools.

So, how do we get people to sing every day? Especially those who are not comfortable singing and don’t sing well?

I’ll tell you about a 13-year-old named Carlo who was once cast as Conrad, the lead in the musical Bye, Bye, Birdie. But, there was a problem. He couldn’t sing in tune. So, the director staged scenes where his solos were drowned out by the chorus.

[SLIDE]

Fast forward, and Carlo Franzblau, now a Harvard-educated businessman wanted to sing lullabys to his children. He figured that if he could see his voice in comparison to the pitch, he could learn how to sing in tune. So, he hired a software designer to create a program, and at 40-something, Carlo learned how.

The program is called Singing Coach. You can download it free on a PC with three songs. It’s amazing how fast you improve! I do not work for this company. This is just the best software for learning to sing more accurately that I’ve found.

[SLIDE]

[Audience sings "My Country 'Tis of Thee with one audience member recording by singing into microphone]

[SLIDE]

In 2008, I launched the Great American Singing Challenge, a grassroots movement to get all children singing in tune. Music teachers join and agree to assess their students in the fall and spring.

[SLIDE]

Then, they are encouraged to hold a school singalong in the spring where they honor both the highest scoring and most improved singers. www.greatamericansingingchallenge.com

 [SLIDE]

Other countries are concerned about a lack of singing. British composer Howard Goodall told me that he convinced England’s Minister of Education that the country should train classroom teachers to get all students singing every day, and their government funded a program called Sing Up with about $70 million (USD).

[SLIDE]

I attended the final Sing Up training in England, and met with people from 10 countries. We formed the Singing Nations Network. Its mission: Sing for Your Life!” Vision: “Within the span of a generation, hundreds of millions of children will be receiving singing education and people will be singing together.”

 [SLIDE]

So when children sing every day, what happens in their brains and does it affect other areas of learning?

My colleague Dr. Elizabeth Olson and I teach a course for classroom teachers called, “Want to Teach Reading and Math? Try Singing!” Using her research-based Affirming Parallel Concepts™ strategy, we show teachers how to use folk songs and singing games to consciously practice reading and math skills. Three kindergarten teachers from Minneapolis Public School Lincoln Elementary took the course and asked the question: What effect does daily singing and affirming parallel concepts have on kindergartners’ letter sound acquisition (phonemic awareness)? Here’s an email I received:

[SLIDE]

 “Lincoln was #1 in the increase in phonemic awareness from fall to winter…of ALL the Minneapolis schools. Coincidence? I think not! I think singing!!!!!”

Not only had their kindergartners shown the most growth, they had posted the highest score out of all 50 Minneapolis Public schools. Next year, with another group of kindergartners, they did it again. The results are posted on our Center for Lifelong Music Making website:www.lifelongmusicmaking.org

[SLIDE]

Dr. Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, has conducted research about the brain that reveals that music making enables the brain for higher achievement.She has called for a large-scale effort to provide music instruction for every child in the schools, and improve the quality and quantity of music training.

[SLIDE]

Kraus’ graphs show that musically-trained brains have better auditory memory, ability to tell speech sounds apart, rhythmic abilities, and ability to focus in noisy environments. All of these brain differences contribute to higher reading achievement.

[SLIDE]

So, back to the story of Carlo’s Singing Coach. Before he put it on the market, he wanted to find out whether it worked for others, so he put out a notice: “Bad Singers Wanted.” A mom brought in her 12-year old daughter Ashleigh, and they took the software home. Six weeks later they returned and the mom burst into tears…of relief. She said that Ashleigh had been an unhappy child who hated school, and was in special education because she couldn’t read well. After singing for hours with the software at home, Ashleigh suddenly was able to read fluently. She no longer needed special education, and she loved school. Since then, research studies have been conducted with over 1400 students. In just nine weeks of singing three times a week for 30 minutes, struggling readers improve an average of one year in reading. Carlo created a new software program called TUNEin to READING.

[SLIDE]

www.tuneintoreading.com

[SLIDE]

This last Wednesday, my partner Bill Jones and I launched the Rock ‘n’ Read Project to get all children reading at grade level. We bought a retired metro city bus and outfitted it as a computer lab and installed TUNEin to READING software. We’re at the YMCA and a Minneapolis Public Schools summer school site. About 30 students enter the bus on the hour every day, and sing with the software. By the end of the summer, we’ll report out to the media how many kids went up ½, 1, or even 2 years in reading.

Shifting gears, let’s talk about the benefits of singing for health and wellbeing.

[SLIDE]

The power of music to integrate and cure…is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication. ~Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sachs

Dr. Rob Beck was a professor at Lawrence and husband of former Lawrence president Jill Beck. Before he arrived here, he conducted a study of choral singers. He analyzed their saliva before and after singing, and studied Immunoglobulin A, (IgA), a disease-fighting hormone, and cortisol, a stress hormone. IgA increased an average of 240% after performance and 150% after rehearsal. The singers also reported a sense of happiness and well-being. Based on this study, I began to tell people they have to sing every day to get the IgA boost…A song a day keeps the doctor away!

Singing, dancing and drumming all trigger endorphin release and positive feelings. It’s the act of making music that generates the endorphin high, not the music itself.

Singing also raises oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and intimacy, leading to more energy and relaxation after singing.

[SLIDE]

Heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz has his recovering patients sing to prompt deeper breathing and healing.

[SLIDE]

Retired cattle farmer Andy Mackie underwent nine surgeries for heart problems. The side effects from numerous medications were making his life miserable, so he took the $600 he paid each month for medication and bought and gave away 300 harmonicas with lessons to children. When he didn't die the next month, he bought 300 more and started going from school to school. 11 years and 20,000 donated harmonicas later, they called Mackie “The Harmonica Man.” Although he passed away in 2011, his foundation still provides instruments & lessons for children.

Singing helps people who stutter, who have autism, who have experienced strokes and Aphasia, Parkinson’s, dementia, Alzheimer’s, COPD. The list goes on. 

[SLIDE]

I recently saw a documentary that won this year’s Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Alive Inside chronicles what happens when we “administer” music to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. People who just sit all day come alive as if the music is medicine or food. Music and Memory is a non-profit organization committed to getting an individual IPod or MP3 player to each person in a nursing home, and then it is programmed with that person’s favorite songs from their teens and young adulthood.

And what about the benefits of singing and music making on longevity?

Neuroscientist Dr. Nina Kraus conducted a study that is believed to be the first to provide biological evidence that lifelong musical activity has a profound impact on the aging process. The researchers found that musicians suffer less from aging-related memory and hearing losses than non-musicians.

[SLIDE]

Here’s Mary West. Five months before she died at 97, she was teaching 30-40 hours a week of violin lessons. Look at that light behind her eyes! To be fair, she was also a swimmer.

And which profession lives longer than any other? Metropolitan Life Insurance found that the mortality of symphony conductors was 62% of that in the general population, or 38% below that of their contemporaries. This Minnesotan still guest conducts around the world at age 90, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.  

Now, you, too, can experience the life-enhancing effects of conducting. I’ve given you a conducting “baton.” Just draw the letter J in the air. Down, up, down, up. It’s even more beneficial if we stand and march…and sing along.

[Audience conducts a Sousa march with chopstick]

[SLIDE]

Let’s return to the theme Sing for Your Life. Why is it so important? Well, how would you kill the spirit of a people? Forbid them to sing their songs as the Taliban did in Afghanistan or the Chinese have done in Tibet. Nagawang Chapelle, a Tibetan raised in India, studied in the U.S. to be an ethnomusicologist. When he traveled to Tibet to collect folk songs, he was arrested and imprisoned for six years. The documentary Tibet in Song chronicles his amazing journey.

[SLIDE]

Singing keeps spirit alive. Since 1869, every five years in Estonia, about 20,000 singers perform for an audience up to 100,000 at the national song festival. As Estonians declared independence from the USSR, they kept strong by singing—referred to now as “The Singing Revolution”—also, the title of a documentary.

[SLIDE]

Singing can trump poverty. Over 35 years ago in Venezuela, José Antonio Abreu gave 11 children living in poverty stringed instruments and lessons in a parking garage. The government now provides instruments, lessons, orchestras, and choirs for children in the worst conditions. These children thrive. It’s called El Sistema, or The System.

[SLIDE]

Fueled by the passion of my friend Kelly Carter, the first Minnesota El Sistema site began last year with twelve 1st graders from families in poverty. They meet after school for 2-½ hours four days a week. And it’s free. They sing folk songs and play singing games, use solfège (do, re, mi system), and bond together as a choir. Then, they receive a donated violin or cello.

[SLIDE]

Singing for life is the foundation of the Kodály approach in Hungary. Folksongs that Kodály and Bartók collected from the people fueled a movement that swept an entire country and beyond with the vision Music for Everyone, not just for the elite.

[SLIDE]

Hungarians Géza & Csaba Szilvay brought the Kodály approach to Finland and adapted it for strings. The Finnish national curriculum now states, “All students will master, as individuals, the basic technique of some rhythm, melody, or harmony instrument so as to be able to play in an ensemble.” Given music competence for all, it’s no surprise to me that Finland is one of the top-scoring nations in reading, math and science achievement in the world.

So, what will it take to tip the U.S.A. toward a musically competent population where all people sing and make music every day? Perhaps the medical profession will lead the way. Can you imagine your doctor saying, “Are you exercising? Eating healthy foods? Singing? Bam! That’s transformation!

[SLIDE]

Tipping a nation toward lifelong music making will take amazing song leaders like Pete Seeger who recently passed away at age 95.

It will take many more people singing together. I took my children’s choir to sing at a senior living facility and listen to their Sing for Your Life Choir—ages 76-98—so the kids could realize they can sing their entire lives. The man who started that choir is now 95.

[SLIDE]

Tipping a nation will take more leaders like Dr. Will Schmid from Wisconsin who launched a movement called “Get America Singing Again” with the National Association for Music Education. Will once said to me, “It ain’t over till the audience sings.” I love that! 20,000 schools and organizations now use Will’s World Music Drumming curriculum.

Tipping a nation will take more people playing instruments. New Horizons Music Association provides instrument instruction and ensemble playing for adults over 50, including beginners.

[SLIDE]

Finally, tipping the nation toward lifelong music making will take a complete overhaul of music teacher preparation. They need in-depth training in the active music making approaches so that all children will become musically competent.

[SLIDE]

In conclusion, over 50 years ago, JFK launched a physical fitness revolution. It’s time to launch a revolution to create a musically fit population. You can help.

·        First of all, don’t give up! Speak to everyone you know about the ability of singing and music making to boost vitality, brain development, achievement, health, and well being.

·        Write “SING” on your post-it note and put it somewhere to remind you to sing every day. I’ve put one on my shower door, on the dash board in the car.

·        Conduct with your “baton” while you sing a song each morning.

·        Join a choir.

·        If you are a music teacher, I hope you are teaching sequential skill development, not appreciation classes—truly, people appreciate most what they know how to do. And, teach with such passion, joy, and challenge that your students don’t want to leave and they come back wanting more. Like four-year-old Eleanor whose dad says that my music class is “the highlight of her week.” I love that!

[SLIDE]

Singing is the outward manifestation of our souls. It’s not a luxury, it’s not a plug-in, it’s not a nicety, it’s not a small entertainment for lunch time for some of the children. And our mission is to bring that back to our 21st-century modern communities. Singing… is our children's birthright.
 
~England’s Singing Ambassador Howard Goodall

You entered the world singing (some call it crying). As an infant, you warbled. As a child, you sang. Many of you played instruments. Let’s keep it going and pass it on to our children and grandchildren. Let’s make music!

[SLIDE]

Please help me close by singing “How Can I Keep From Singing?” [Audience sings.]

Thank you!

Click filename below to access file

Sing_for_Your_Life--Amazing_Benefits_of_Music_Making.pptx