We’re incredibly proud of our Sing with Us choirs, which every week support thousands of people affected by cancer through the power of song.
Since setting up our first choir in 2010, we’ve wanted to find out more about the benefits of singing for people affected by cancer. Our choir members have always told us that singing and being a member of the choir makes them feel better, but we wanted to understand the science behind it.
Research in the earlier years of Sing with Us found that singing had positive impacts for members including increased quality of life and reduced depression and anxiety scores. Research looking at various biomarkers in choristers’ saliva before and after singing found that singing can actually increase the body’s immune response and decrease hormones associated with stress and depression.
We wanted to know more about the biology behind what people were telling us, so in 2016 we funded Dr Daisy Fancourt, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, to carry out a new research project. This project was conducted in partnership between the Royal Marsden Hospital, Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music, and recruited people to take part in two new choirs in London, as well as a non-singing group set up for comparison.
They were particularly interested in seeing what benefit singing in a choir had over a six-month period, on mental health and wellbeing.
One of the main findings focused on carers. The researchers found that over 24 weeks they had significant reductions in their levels of anxiety, especially when compared with the non-singing (control) group. Alongside that they also saw an improvement in their levels of wellbeing.
They also found that singing and being part of the choirs particularly helped people that had low levels of mental health and wellbeing at the start of the study. In other words, the people who needed to benefit the most, did.
The research also involved people who had been recently bereaved to try to understand what, if any, benefits singing in a choir could bring and why this occurred. The results showed people who sang in the choir benefited from more consistent levels of mental health when compared to the group who did no singing.
People who did not take part in the choirs had an increase in their levels of depression throughout the study, alongside more volatile levels of wellbeing. The research found choirs provided a consistency of mental health.
Dr Daisy Fancourt said: “Tenovus Cancer Care choirs helped to give people new skills and a sense of pride. This then seems to transfer into the other aspects of their lives and seems to be one of the drivers of the improvements in their mental health.
“As a researcher it’s been a really wonderful project to work on, and to see the huge amount of energy involved in these choirs. Often when you hear about the choirs it’s difficult to picture what it’s actually like to take part, but having seen the infectious enthusiasm there’s something very special here for people affected by cancer.”
This study builds on our previous research showing the mental health benefits of singing for people with cancer, carers and the bereaved and the addition of a controlled, non-singing, group showed these improvements are not expected to occur naturally over time.