Since time began people have sung songs to communicate messages, express cultural stories, to educate and keep children safe, to instill a sense of cherishing one another. Songs and music styles are passed down from generation to generation. Every season had a song which informed the villagers of when to sow and reap crops, when to pick berries or go fishing. Songs have always accompanied us to tell stories, to weave the narrative of cultural traditions and beliefs, and the laws of right and wrong within the tribe. A healthy culture is always reflected in the development of music and art in its people.
When the individual is surrounded by a robust, healthy soundscape, one that echoes: ‘You belong to us, we see, hear, and feel you, you matter to us,’ then the child grows up secure knowing its kinship, relationship to land and place in the world. They know where homebase is by the tone of the communal fabric, by their voices.
If however the soundscape is distorted, abusive and harsh, a child can grow up with no knowledge of how to behave or of what is acceptable in a social context. They can be starved and malnourished in their social development. When singing is prohibited or there is not enough safety for the child/adolescent to be heard, when opportunities for group bonding are not provided, it may be hard for the individual to grow trust and emotional stability.
Singing together builds a muscle of trust, teamwork, an ability to blend and harmonize with each other, to achieve something more than what we could on our own. It opens the door for the dreamtime, wonder, joy, peace, strength, improvisation, love and freedom to flow. It fosters the capacity to innovate and solve problems together.
As human beings we have a huge psychological need to be accepted, valued and included. Group singing can provide this framework, where a person’s voice is recognized as part of the whole. It’s a space where diversity of race, gender, age, culture and belief can be celebrated. If we can sing together, there is a chance we can live side by side in harmony.
Voice Movement Therapy in a group body context is an exciting arena. We use songs as vehicles to hold the emotional and psychological content of what people are expressing. When we gather around a topic we really value, and sing out a song to capture the essence of this intention, the rhythm kicks in, the melody wakes us up, our hearts pump and we become more alive. We in effect ‘become the music, and it sings us!’
This kind of power causes revolutions, lifting the mind to a brighter future and disarming our defense systems in a radical way. It’s hard to fight with each other if we’re singing together! Group singing creates self-esteem and confidence especially with those who are shy, who may feel socially awkward. It gives them a framework to voice where they don’t stand out, but can try out their voices in a non- threatening way.
I cringe when I hear the stories of people saying: ‘I haven’t sung since 3rd grade music classes when I was told to mute, mouth the words or leave the choir!’ So many people are told they are ‘too loud, too soft, too out of tune, too behind the beat, too…’ and the list goes on. It breaks my heart to hear this, as teachers may not know how damaging this can be to the psyche of a child. To be told to shut up, or that your voice isn’t good enough, can be devastating to a young evolving mind. It can leave a deep wound preventing a child from ever knowing the power of singing for the sheer joy of it.
Voice Movement Therapy in a group context revisits the hidden voice, and allows a safe, secure structure for people of all ages to reclaim their voices. No matter what cultural inheritance, belief, race or gender preference, all people have a birthright to know, express and release their true selves in voice, and to feel safe again in community.