-An interview with Shivon Robinsong
By Satya Varon
If you knew you were born with an ability that could lift your mood, increase your sense of belonging, raise your spirits and oxygenate your body… Would you use it?
Then try singing.
“Singing is our birthright, says Shivon Robinsong, founder and co-director of the renowned Gettin’ Higher Choir in Victoria, BC; and co-leader (with Susan Osborn) of the Way of Song workshop at Hollyhock. Robinsong has spent the last twenty years building vocal communities and helping people to reclaim their voices. She believes that not only is singing for everyone, but that when we sing together, it actually has the power to fulfill some of our deepest needs: community, connection, belonging and harmony.
“There is nothing quite as effective at building community as singing. Even humming together, people start smiling. There’s an atmosphere of openness and acceptance”, says Robinsong. Singing is naturally inclusive: you don’t’ have to be particularly extroverted or verbal. “You can joyfully connect with others without having to speak at all. You are creating something collectively. You experience belonging and being yourself. “
And if you count yourself among the many people who believe they “can’t sing”, there’s good news… you don’t’ have to be a good singer. In fact, just get rid of the notion of good and bad altogether. Because according to Robinsong, not only is a good voice simply a voice you feel comfortable with but “something magical, happens when you sing with others. People who may be out of tune on their own, naturally get in tune when singing in groups”.
That magic is being corroborated by science. There is evidence showing that singing with others literally unifies people at the heart level. A remarkable new study by Swedish researchers at the University of Gothenburg found that singing in unison not only had a calming effect on the heart (it slows down), but that their heart rates actually synchronized as a group; beat as one. The implications are interesting, leading some researchers to wonder if singing could be used as a tool to create cohesion in other social groups.
And the benefits don’t stop there. Social isolation is a well known risk factor in human health. Singing in groups offers powerful psychological anti-oxidants to social corrosion: Belonging. Bonding. Unity. Community. It also contains the mental health benefits of relaxed concentration. It’s difficult to think about the stress of the day while concentrating on a phrase or singing the right lyric.
Top it off with super-oxygenating your body through the deep breathing needed to sing and we’ve got the perfect storm for a happy healthy psyche!
Or do we? If singing is so clearly beneficial what’s stopping us from gleefully singing our hearts out?
“Your voice is a very personal part of yourself. So if it’s ridiculed or put down in any way. It’s very vulnerable. Your singing voice comes from the same place as your emotions”, Robinsong muses.
To address that vulnerability, she advises us to get out of our heads, into the body, and into a group. “The critic lives in the head. I do excercises to help people get into the body. When you come into the body, it calms down the inner critic. When you sing in larger groups, you get a break from self-consciousness, because individual voices are less important than how everyone sounds together. There’s a freedom in that.”
Robinsong wants to free us from stifling ideas about who can sing and about what singing is for.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions around the value of singing is that it is about performance. I think that’s only a small aspect. If you were to ask anyone what the world needs more of, I doubt anyone would say more entertainment, more performance. But does it need more connection? More sense of community? More sense of belonging? Yes. And that’s what singing can do.”
On this note, Robinsong shares her own transformational experience at one of Hollyhock’s first singing retreats with Susan Osborn. “(To hear Susan) declare that singing was for everyone, not just for the gifted few, seemed to me a most generous, inclusive and liberating statement. Having spent too many years wishing I had a different voice, “a good voice”, I began to accept my singing voice as it was, and to sing more. I came out of hiding, and discovered the immense pleasure of singing in community, letting go of the need to judge others or myself. And along that journey, I found my deepest calling in life.”
Satya Varon is a freelance writer who plans to shamelessly burst out into song whenever possible.
Join Shivon Robinsong and Susan Osborn for their “Way of Song” workshop, Aug 4 – 9, 2013 at Hollyhock on Cortes Island.