Singing to Heal


Singing to Heal: Tempo Uses Song for Wellbeing

Throughout history, music has been used as a way to heal and inspire. From spiritual chanting, congregational hymns, and birthing music, to the personal playlist that can get a person through a tough physical workout.

As a magazine geared toward the betterment of vocalists, we have a keen interest in the healing aspects of voice and music. Tempo is an organization that uses singing as a tool to improve mental and overall health. We spoke to Tempo to learn more about their story and the way they use singing as a means to heal and lift spirits.

Throughout history, music has always been a way to heal and uniteemote. This can be on a very broad level, such as the spiritual beliefs of chanting, to a very personal level, —such as popping in your favorite playlist to get you through a tough workout.

As a magazine geared towards the betterment of vocalists, we’ve always had a keen interest in the healing aspects of music—more specifically, song. Therefore, we spoke with our friends over at Tempo, an organization that uses music as a tool to better mental and overall health, to learn about their story and the way they use singing as a means to heal and lift spirits.

Where It All Began.

‘The stars aligned at the right time!’ is the explanation given by Kim Garner, of Tempo, when asked how it all began. Kim works in Adult Mental Health alongside Dr. Hannah Wilson, also of Tempo . T and towards the end of 2013, their team morale felt a little low. Kim said that she wanted to find a way to lift the team ‘spirit’. Vocal coaches and group singing experts Steve Giles & Dan Cooper, who are also part of the Tempo team, had been running some group- based singing activities for workplaces with the intention of boosting morale and improving the general sense of well-being within a group. Kim felt that this was just what the doctor ordered.

The founders of Tempo: Dr. Hannah Wilson, Kim Garner, Steve Giles and Dan Cooper

‘It was quite amusing to hear colleagues tell me they couldn’t join the singing session’, said Kim. ‘All of a sudden, there were reports to be written and people to see. Eventually, after wearing them down, I frog- marched the reluctant participants to the conference room where Steve and Dan were waiting’.

Hannah, was eagerly looking forward to the singing session. She also helped Kim invite patients on the unit to make sure that they were involved. ‘Despite participants stating that they could only attend for five minutes, they ended up staying the duration and left the session singing,’ Hannah explained.

Kim and& Hannah saw that the reaction and interaction of staff within the session was exciting. Hannah could see that the recovery model (a method of working within mental health) was present within the activity of singing and in particular, group singing. This was the birth of Tempo as we see it today.

The Power of Group Singing.

People have sung in groups for centuries whether it be around the camp fire, the piano at the local pub, Christmas carols, or wishing a loved one a “Happy Birthday”. Research is beginning to tell us why singing is so powerful. Research into psychological well-being has identified three main factors that are crucial: open expression of emotions, a flexible approach to life’s problems, and social connectedness. Singing in a group meets all three of these factors; thus, it is a perfect way to increase a sense of well-being.

Firstly, music directly taps into our emotions, meaning that hearing music, and singing, can enable us to freely express emotion. When listening to sad music we tend to cry; uplifting music can make uswe feel energetic; frightening music can even make us jump out of our skins. Therefore, singing in a group can have the power to help us “let go” and freely express emotions. We all know that repressed emotion is not good— – it keeps us stuck. Being able to express our emotions literally frees us up to make the most of life. After singing together we can feel more confident and the power of this can follow us throughout our day – we might find we have the courage to do something we’ve been putting off. Singing in a group can have lasting effects on our confidence, extending beyond the time we sing together.

Secondly, singing in a group requires acceptance that we might not always be able to make the sound we want. We may need to engage some active problem solving skills to make the required sound. For example, adapting what vowels we might sing in order to make it possible to reach the high notes: singing “nut” for “night”. This requires a flexible mind that lets go of holding onto there always being a “right” way of doing something. This flexibility has been shown to make us more creative and adaptable to life’s challenges.

Thirdly, singing in a group brings people together. Creating harmony with others means cooperation and communication. Working as a team for a common goal and purpose is the glue of social connectedness. As we are social creatures we need to know we live safely in the minds of others. Regularly coming together with others who are open with their emotions and flexible with their thinking, means we are connecting with others in this way.

Singing in a group has the power to enhance our wellbeing, connecting us to others with a common purpose.

Witnessing Change, Everyday.

Every time the Tempo team delivers a workshop, they are amazed at the impact that it has on the participants. They’ve seen how one singing workshop can change the lives of an individual. In one case, a young person who was residing in a secure mental health unit found it hard to get up and out of bed before 2pm. After a Tempo workshop, the staff at the unit had said that during the time Tempo visited it was noted that one young person particularly benefited from the sessions, with a noted improvement in her presenting mood, her personal care, engagement in other sessions, and the time of day she was up. It was noted that she made a visible effort on her appearance before the sessions.

The team hasve also seen that in one workshop, a patient at an acute mental health ward who had been particularly hostile all morning completely transformed his behaviour. At the end of the workshop, he said, ‘I felt like I could get all of my anger out by using my voice instead of taking it out on the staff’. For Tempo, this was again, another huge piece of evidence that music and singing can change people for the better.

Tempo hasve also been running workshops for the elderly at care homes. Within a 30- minute workshop, the team hasave seen the residents smiling more and becoming more social with their fellow residents. A son of a lovely lady at a care home said: ‘I haven’t seen my Mother sing in years and it was so lovely to see her enjoying herself!’.

Singing together seems to knock down barriers and increases integration. Staff and patients/resident integration is crucial for that increased sense of inclusion and acceptance. For Tempo, these sorts of changes are inspiring and also provide the motivation needed for the team to continue to spread the love across the world.

What the Future Holds for Tempo.

The underlying excitement within the Tempo team is hard to ignore. If you visit their website, you’ll be confronted with the sentence ‘Music can change your world’ and it’s clear to see that Kim, Hannah, Dan, and Steve feel very strongly about this. Steve mentioned, “Iit’s getting to the point where, considering it’s benefits, we are amazed at just how little singing goes on in the world… we want to change that”.

The “circle of influence”, as Tempo call it, is their way of monitoring just how many people have been ‘Tempo’d’ or touched by the music in their workshops. Whether it’s through the Recovery Choir, Memory Choir, or one of their new music workshops, one thing is for sure, we are sure to see a lot happier people in the future as the energy starts to spread.


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