A singer’s blog: Concert highs and post-concert lows or, the ‘auditory cheesecake’ of Inspiration

22 April 2017

It’s now a couple of weeks, or more for Newcastle, since we felt the music and rhythm, ‘wrap around, take a hold of (our) heart(s)’. And ‘What a feelin’!’ that was. Comments from singers on the choir website forum all agree on the ‘buzz’ we got from performing and being part of such a grand scale production.

The euphoria was tempered, perhaps more than usual, with relief that we managed to pull off what Gary admitted was ‘a very big sing’ (I think there were actually 33 separate items!) and, ‘a huge feat of note and word learning’. For Southampton the learning curve had added steepness in that we had sung fewer of the pieces before.

Pete’s notes after our last rehearsal had final-week-tweaks for nearly all the numbers and ‘words’ featured in at least half. The effort put in by so many to get from there to the applause and plaudits of concert day was rightly acknowledged by both Gary, ‘I will never take for granted the amount of work that you all put in between rehearsals; it is what lifts us above the rest’, and Pete, ‘It’s the choir who put so much work in and so reap these fabulous rewards!’ Gary, Pete, Mark, Philip and Teresa’s hugely significant parts in training and urging us on to reach the heights of concert day were also noted in after-show comments; the magic does not just happen.

So how does it happen? We know many listen to the learning tracks in the car or in the bath/shower. But Southampton singers told me earphones are in while walking the dog, turning the compost heap or watching Match of the Day (on mute)! One Southampton soprano even tuned in during an acupuncture treatment!

And when the ‘thrills and laughter’ of the concert are over, what then? Some say, “I wish we could do it again,” others ask for earworm cures or wonder when the MP3s for the next concert will be available. So, could it be we’re addicted to the music? Numerous studies would suggest that this is so.

Researchers have found that there are biochemical mechanisms that underlie music addiction. When most individuals really like a song, they experience chills and a ‘high’ of sorts, which may give them a lot of energy and a pleasurable feeling. This sensation is enhanced further when the music-making is shared, as in a large-scale choir.

But, in addition to the chills, listening to music you like also triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in underlying positive reactions caused by food, drugs and other pleasurable activities.

Professor Henkjan Honing, from the University of Amsterdam, has written about the euphoric effect an experience of music we all share can have, “The pleasure we derive from it, not only from the acrobatics of making it but also from the act of listening to it.”

I certainly had dopamine highs while singing last Saturday night but also, equally strongly, while listening to some of the stunning BSO interludes. For example, the solo flute and cor anglais in ‘Sayuri’s Theme’ were shiveringly beautiful and then Teresa’s oriental style keyboard accompaniment simply added to the delight.

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker was probably right when he wrote, “I suspect music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of...our mental faculties.” Now the ecstasy of the concert is over, are we craving more of the choral cheesecake or wondering how we can, or if we even want to, resist the urge to indulge once more!

It’s true we only have so much time to pander to our passions and I know of Southampton singers who are taking the summer off singing to play cricket or bowls or even, like retiring politicians, to ‘spend more time with their families’! But for those who are already easing their withdrawal symptoms (and persistent earworms) by downloading and plugging into the next batch of MP3s you’re probably subscribing to the ‘Don’t stop me now, cause I’m having a good time’ approach to singing with Inspiration and no doubt there will be plenty more signing up to ‘Let the sunshine in’ next term.

Alan Matlock
Inspiration Southampton Singer

Inspiration rehearsal