Is That Seat Saved? Take It – Your Body and Soul Might Be.

Remembering the Joy of Choir

At a Portsmouth Pro Musica performance of Haydn’s Creation Mass last month, I made a new friend and was reminded about the relationship between arts and health. I was there solo, looking forward to an introspective afternoon reconnecting with music that started my relationship with the arts. It was a cold day, but the hall was warm and overflowing with like-minded fans of choral music. A woman gently touched my shoulder. She gestured to the space next to me asking, “Is that seat saved?” I encouraged her to join the row, she settled in, and we exchanged obligatory seat-neighbor pleasantries. There was a contagious peace about her.

She told me a humorous story about attending church services as a child. Upon entering the sanctuary and seeking spots in a pew, parishioners asked the very question she asked me, “Is that seat saved?” In her story, the standard answer was, “No, but we’re trying our best.” She had a terrific sense of humor.

Discovering that we shared backgrounds in choral music, we traded memories about choirs and concerts and being music kids. Recalling the adventures and friendships of my choral history felt like entering a favorite room that had been sitting dark and gathering dust. We agreed wholeheartedly that creativity and the arts were critical parts of being physically and mentally healthy. She was kind enough to trust me with a recent personal journey that I share here.

At the beginning of the pandemic, my new friend joined a virtual choir with members across many continents. She loved the music, the relationships, the members’ care for one another, and the joy of being with creative, like-minded friends. Soon after joining the choir, she realized that she was happier, calmer, and her life was more fulfilling because of her participation in making music and building relationships with her fellow musicians. She mentioned this to her doctor, and they agreed that it might be a good time to work together to help her discontinue an anti-depressant that had helped her since the late 90s. She embraced the idea and, with her doctor’s support, continues to be happier, healthier, and medication-free to this day – still singing with the virtual choir.

Arts and Health:

Prevention and Promotion; Management and Treatment

The current global mental health crisis is drawing attention to the impact of the arts and creativity on overall health and wellness. This is not a surprise. But it might surprise you to learn about the World Health Organization’s division entirely devoted to Arts and Health. I discovered this in April while doing research on the topic, just in time to attend a virtual global conference on World Art Day, April 15. Experts in many fields confirmed the potential impact of the arts on overall wellness. I continued my exploration of the topic and particularly appreciate a new understanding of the work as it applies to two categories described in a 2019 Report by the World Health Organization: 1.) Prevention and Promotion and 2.) Management and Treatment.

The great news is that quantitative and qualitative data prove the thesis that individuals and communities will all be mentally, physically, and spiritually healthier if we have access to participation in creative pursuits.

The not-so-great news is that access is not available to many communities that need it the most. Fortunately, there are many organizations working to solve this problem. Agencies of all sizes increasingly rely on artistic programming in their efforts to reduce recidivism among previously incarcerated women; to prevent domestic violence; to reduce isolation among older adults, to treat depression and anxiety of transgender youth, and to connect divided communities.

The hopeful news is that the movement has begun to ensure that wellness is supported by arts and culture in communities across the world.

“Arts engagement, including music therapy and dance, can reduce internalizing symptoms such as anxiety and depression in children and adolescents. In adults with a mental illness, activities such as choir singing, art-making, expressive writing and group drumming reduces mental distress, depression and anxiety while simultaneously enhancing individual and social well-being, with similar results for older adults. Notably, these results were found both when individuals chose to engage in community arts activities themselves and when they were referred to the activities through social prescribing.”

WHO 2019 Report: Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report 67: What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? Fancourt | Finn

Join the Movement – Find Your Seat

You might feel overwhelmed about where to start in terms of how you can help. This weekend, try taking that open seat at any local concert, play, poetry reading, opera, craft club, pottery class – you get the idea. It just might save your body, mind, and soul – and by supporting local artists so that everyone has access to the same opportunities, you might save someone else’s.