Singing Your Stresses Away

(Today’s Author is Carol from MWM Paignton)

This week I was reminded by one of my Jolly Babies’ mums who comes to class how therapeutic music and singing is for us adults, and not just beneficial for our children’s development.

She had had a tough week because of an issue with her older child who is in his first year of secondary school and she was feeling pretty miserable and helpless about the whole situation. Having been through the secondary school years with my own boys, I know only too well how worrying it can be as a parent during this time, so I really felt her pain.

She nearly didn’t come to class as she was upset and feeling overwhelmed by everything, but she made herself come with her baby, not just because she knew it was good for him, but also because she knew it would be good for her too, getting out of the house, socialising with other parents and having a jolly good sing song with her baby.

Jolly Babies
A Jolly Babies class at Goodrington – March 2017

Music, especially if it is participatory either through singing or playing an instrument rather than just passively listening, helps to release stress, your brain focuses on something else other than your problems, and in turn your body produces endorphins and oxytocin and starts to make you feel happier and calmer again. It lifts your mood. You can read here a bit more about what it does to your brain. The Science of Singing  I am sure you will have seen how your own child sometimes seems so completely enraptured and engaged when an upbeat piece of music comes on, or their favourite lullaby is sung, their faces, body language, their movement and expressions tell a thousand things that their words are not yet capable of explaining to us.

That is why music, singing, playing an instrument, is so important to us as a species. It touches our soul.

It has to be said that many animals and birds also display positive and rhythmic responses to music, so it also proves I think that music is a language all of its own. No barriers. Remember the times in the disco (showing my age), in the club, when you can’t hear yourselves talk, but you might be dancing with your friends or a partner or often someone you’ve never even met before, and it doesn’t matter that you can’t hear each other, you are part of the music as one and enjoying the moment. Happy times!

Music and singing has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. Granny Brown was a piano teacher, she got her cap and gown from the Guildhall School of Music at age 17 in about 1917, and became a successful piano teacher, albeit she lived in very hard times in Yorkshire in the 1920’s and there wasn’t much money around. Life was very different then, and when she came down here to Devon probably in the early 1930’s, the climate was definitely warmer, and it might have looked more affluent at that time in Torbay, but there still wasn’t much money around, and then of course came the War. My Gran was a skilled pianist but had two children by then and with a husband who now had Parkinson’s, she had to make ends meet. She played piano in pubs, bars, played for a dance school in Brixham, did some piano teaching for those who could afford it, and I can’t imagine how hard life was.

Granny Brown 1917
Granny Brown 1917

But fast forward to when I was little in the early 1970’s, she was my rock. She lived with us; she was very ill as had many parts of her bowel removed, probably due to cancer but nobody knew back then, they just kept cutting bits out, and had a colostomy bag (pretty rudimentary in those days, not pleasant) which I remember helping to change with my mum regularly. But, she taught me to play the piano and by the age of 4 I could read music and sight read a simple piece. I started decoding new pieces and loved to ‘write’ my own music. She sang with me and always smiled and encouraged me. She unfortunately died when I was 6 and from that moment I refused to play or sing again unless I was on my own. No-one could hear me. I had to have the doors shut and I would whisper my songs and play quietly to myself for a long time. I must have been heartbroken. But times in 1975 were still tough. You had to just keep going. No time for feeling sorry for yourself, no therapy, no talking, move on. I’m glad in some respects as that’s what we had to do and so we did it. When my dad died a couple of years later, that’s also what we did. Just got on with it. Kids are mostly resilient when they are little though.

But her legacy of finding comfort, positivity, and solace in music has always stayed with me. After a few years I did return to musical training and played the flute, the tenor horn and euphonium, always tried my hand at whatever I could, and at 19 started formal piano lessons again, finally taking my exams. I never reached to be as accomplished as my Gran but maybe one day I will if I keep going.

Two Grans 1973
Granny Knox on the left, Me in the middle, and Granny Brown on the right. Probably taken in 1973 when I was about 4.  Palace Avenue Gardens, Paignton.

Thing is, I’ve had some pretty difficult times in my younger life, but music has always been a constant, and except for the few years after my Gran died, I would play and sing every day. We had very little money, but music didn’t need money. I had an old piano and a voice, nothing else was required. And whether it’s been writing music or verse when I was younger, to playing in the school orchestra, to singing in the Salvation Army choir and playing in the brass band, to being in a 4 piece group called Lifeline with my friends when I was about 12, to taking the music sessions for children at the preschools and primary schools I have worked at, to now for the last 11 years filling my days singing and dancing with you all, what music and singing gives me is immeasurable. Every day I am grateful to have that ability to switch off from the world and grateful to my Granny Brown for teaching me to play the piano and experience music and singing so young.

So, going back to the mum I talked about in the beginning, she said how thankful she was that she had pushed herself to come to class; her little boy had had a lovely time at Jolly Babies, and she felt much calmer, clearer and uplifted afterwards. She felt a little bit more ready to take a step forward out of the cloud that was hounding her right now, and it was the music and community spirit that a singing class spreads that she felt had enabled her to do that. I do hope that by today she is feeling a bit more positive again. From my own experience, it does get better, it’s a roller coaster this parenting, but keeping close to people around you and talking is key to getting through.

And if you want to sing your heart out in the car or belt out a ballad in the kitchen while you’re cooking to relieve some stress and forget about life for a while, do it.

I do it all the time!

Carol x x x

A Blast from the Past – Music with Mummy – Teddy Bear’s Regatta – Galmpton 2008

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