Ep. 151 Transcript

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. My guest today is Dr. Diana Allan, president of National Association of Teachers of Singing, which goes by the acronym NATS — NATS. Dr. Allan is a soprano with extensive performance and university teaching experience. Dr. Allan recently retired from the University of Texas at San Antonio and currently serves on the voice faculty of Missouri Southern State University. Welcome to Enhance Life with Music, Diana.

Diana Allan: [00:00:37] Oh, I’m glad to be here with you, Mindy.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:39] Well, Diana, if there is one instrument that I tend to hear and read the most about related health benefits, it is the voice, the benefits of singing at our health and wellness. And I guess that makes sense because when you’re singing, you’re not only using your body to actually create music, but your actual body parts are the instrument itself. Yes. So I guess that makes sense. And while I can’t claim to be a vocalist, I’m a pianist, but I’m really excited to hear more today about the wonders of singing. You’re a vocalist, you’re president of NATS and a member of the NATS Advocacy Committee. So tell us a little bit about what some of those benefits are of singing, whether it’s physical benefits, psychological, social. Tell us about it.

Diana Allan: [00:01:31] Well, I’m happy to. Isn’t it wonderful that singing is absolutely everywhere? There is not a place we go, hardly an activity we participate in or a community that we visit that is devoid of singing.

Mindy Peterson: [00:01:46] Whether throughout history.

Diana Allan: [00:01:48] Exactly. Exactly. Whether we’ve consciously catalogued or are aware of the various benefits of singing, we are instinctually drawn to it. Singing is one of those, like you just said, it’s one of those unique activities that takes us from cradle to grave. Mothers all over the world in every society sing lullabies to their babies. Music is one of those things seniors can continue to participate in when other activities become difficult for them. And there is no time in life from the moment of birth until the time of death, where singing is not part of the human experience. And that makes it a very special but corporate experience that we all share. I think the health benefits of singing are well documented. I remember reading a study from scientists in Germany, the University of Frankfurt. They conducted some research with professional choristers, and they found that singing strengthens the immune system. They tested the blood of people who sang in a professional choir in Frankfurt and they did it before and after a rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem. And they found that concentrations of proteins in the immune system that function as antibodies and the anti stress hormone increased significantly during the rehearsal.

Mindy Peterson: [00:03:17] That is so fast.

Diana Allan: [00:03:19] It is fascinating.

Mindy Peterson: [00:03:20] So is that the the protein is that the immunoglobulin? A? Yes, it is.

Diana Allan: [00:03:26] It is.

Mindy Peterson: [00:03:27] And then the stress reduction. Is that dopamine or is it? I think.

Diana Allan: [00:03:32] It’s hydrocortisone. Yeah. Hydrocortisone, the anti stress hormone. What’s interesting about this is they went back a week later and asked the members of the choir to just listen to a recording of the Requiem without singing it. And they found that their blood composition did not change significantly. Wow. So their conclusion was that singing not only strengthened the immune system on a somewhat permanent basis, but it also notably improved their the performer’s mood. So singing is good for us, you know?

Mindy Peterson: [00:04:09] Yeah, That is so fascinating today. I haven’t dug into that more. Do you know if they’ve determined how that physiological process happens or why?

Diana Allan: [00:04:19] I don’t know that they have. I don’t know that they have the reasoning behind it that but we we certainly enjoy that that benefit all of us. Dr. Graham Welch, I don’t know if you know that name. He’s no he’s chair of the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research, and he’s actually a singer himself. He’s in the UK. He goes so far as to say that singing can help prolong life. Wow. You know, in in the work he’s been doing, he talks about how singing exercises the vocal cords, keeping them youthful. I’ve. Ever thought of it that way. But but the younger our voice sounds, the more we feel and seem to be younger. As we sing, our circulation improves. It oxygenates the cells, It boosts the immune system like we’ve just seen in that study and enhances just our well being overall.

Mindy Peterson: [00:05:23] Yeah, I want to go back to well, actually, I want to go back to what you said about the voice sounding younger. I never thought about that. But have you ever had those experiences where you talk to someone on the phone and you just I mean, unconsciously we develop this image in our mind based on their voice, and then sometimes you meet them and you’re like, Oh, wow. They’re like way younger or way older than what I had pictured in my mind.

Diana Allan: [00:05:45] Exactly. Exactly. But it just it makes a lot of sense to me that when you you use your voice and people do make even when they can see you, they they make not judgments, but they make opinions and they have perceptions about you, you know, depending on the way your voice sounds. So keeping it fresh, keeping it healthy is just a good part of maintaining your overall health.

Mindy Peterson: [00:06:15] I had not thought about that, but it makes sense. I mean, it’s kind of a use it or lose it kind of a thing, right? Unlike our muscles, you know, stay active and you keep those muscles in shape. Exactly. And if you just allow them to atrophy, then that aging process definitely accelerates.

Diana Allan: [00:06:31] Exactly. You know, a no brainer in when you think about the voice as the instrument, is that we use breath. We’re a wind instrument. So singing gives our lungs a workout. And I recall a young student I had in Texas when I taught at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She she came to me as a freshman and she had lung disease. Her high school teachers really discouraged her from going into music. Oh, you’re not going to be able to complete this, not with your disease. And she she obviously was very stricken with this disease. She was hospitalized many times throughout her first two years and took breathing treatments even in my office. And I was happy to see that she she stuck it out. She was a very passionate, hardworking young woman. And she she graduated with her music education degree and she gave a beautiful recital. So I think singing not only gave her the the drive to to go on, but it enhanced her ability to to her lungs to function. So.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:48] Yeah, it would be interesting to talk to her doctors and see if they noticed any, I guess, slower progression of the disease. Yes. Because of her vocal activities. Yes. That wouldn’t surprise me at all if that was the case. Exactly. And just going back to what you were saying about that oxygenation effect of singing it, it does increase heart and lung function more like like I said, I’m a pianist and that whole breathing and breath is not a part of actually playing our instrument, but it totally is with singing and with other wind instruments.

Diana Allan: [00:08:26] Definitely.

Mindy Peterson: [00:08:27] And and also you hear so much more now about mindful breathing and I guess strategies with breathing in terms of belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. And it’s something that I have incorporated into my teaching with my students just as sort of like a pre performance type of a strategy to sort of simulate that vagus nerve with the deep breathing because it can have a calming effect on the body. And you hear more and more about, like I said, mindfulness, mindful breathing and all areas of life just for meditation or calming anxiety purposes. For me personally, kind of my Achilles heel medically is insomnia. Like, I’m just not a good sleeper. And so some of those deep breathing exercises have really been a great coping strategy for me. And I find that when I am using them because I’m having problems falling asleep, I really notice a difference in my lung capacity when I’m working out. Like I just have a much better capacity to get a full lung full of air when I’m breathing, when I’ve been doing some of those exercises. And so it totally makes sense to me that someone who is a vocalist and has those sustained breathing patterns in what they’re doing regularly with their singing would have increased oxygenation of their system, increased lung capacity. And that just helps oxygenate your entire system. So they probably see that effect in their brain, ability to focus and things like that as well.

Diana Allan: [00:10:09] Definitely, yeah. Breathing strategies are so good for mindfulness and so good for calming us. So singing, being able to use our use our breath in that way enhances everything about how we function. I I’ve been struck by studies of seniors and, you know, when I say seniors, I mean people like me 65 and older and how they can continue to be involved in choirs and they can continue to sing. I know there’s a chorale in Virginia that’s a seniors singing group, and the average age is 80. The youngest is 65 and the oldest is 96. And they were involved in a study and it showed that the singers involved in this group suffered less depression. They made fewer doctor visits per year than their contemporaries who weren’t involved in a group like this. They took fewer medications and had increased their activities in other areas as well. So they were just more active just by being involved in in singing, continuing their love for for this this art.

Mindy Peterson: [00:11:28] Wow. Well, and as you point out with that story, music is unlike many other activities in the sense that it is a lifelong sport, if you want to call it that. Right activity, a lifelong life enhancer. People are not going to be playing soccer in football when they’re in their eighties. But you can be making music right your entire life. So that that is really.

Diana Allan: [00:11:55] And of course, singing actually starts in infancy. You know, we may not call it singing when we hear a child cooing and and eventually that becomes some kind of a melody without words. But it’s it’s sort of an inborn natural response. And if you think about it, their musical experience starts in the womb, you know, as their mother sings or they experience music in the womb. Infants who find joy in their early music making, you know, we’re like them. We sing because it feels good. We sing because it makes us feel even better. And and, you know, Mindy, from our earliest days in school, we learned we learned by singing, you know, A, B, C, D, e, f, g, You know, we learned the alphabet with a tune. I remember learning the names of the 12 disciples in an early Sunday school class by singing them. You know, and it’s interesting to me that as children, you know, we sang for fun. We sang to learn maybe, but it wasn’t primarily to sound better or to sound good. And I still contend that sounding good as a singer is a wonderful benefit. But it’s hardly the reason, the primary reason to sing.

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:17] Well in some of the neurotransmitters and hormones that are affected through the process of singing can also reduce pain. You mentioned that some of those seniors were on reduced levels of medication. They went to their doctors needed needed medical visits less frequently. So I think that’s something that’s important to point out to. And something that I found really fascinating is that pain reduction effect of some of those neurotransmitters and hormones that are stimulated through singing.

Diana Allan: [00:13:50] Yes, I think that must be connected with the endorphins that are released through singing and making music. When we feel good, I think it distracts us.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:01] Sometimes from.

Diana Allan: [00:14:03] From maybe what ails us. And when we feel good, it is just an opportunity to be involved in activities that keep our minds off of maybe some ailments that we might focus on in other in other words.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:19] For sure, yeah, it’s the distraction effect. And like you mentioned, those endorphins that are released that do lift the mood, they reduce that perception of pain. And when you can add in movement with that the dance along with your singing, it just like exponentially increases the benefits.

Diana Allan: [00:14:38] Oh, definitely.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:40] Those. Yeah. Yeah. Some of those.

Diana Allan: [00:14:41] Definitely. You know, going back to the senior choir, you know, just singing in a choir builds a sense of community. And I think many, many people, especially post COVID seniors, we don’t want to feel alone. You know, we want we need the sense of. Community and there’s so much pleasure to be found in sharing our musical interests with others and making connections through our mutual love of singing. There was a study of of university choral singers where they were asked the question whether they benefited personally from being involved in a choir. And I think over 85% of them benefited socially. You know, they just felt that that need to to connect with others with this. Yes. Liked interest.

Mindy Peterson: [00:15:33] Yes. Well, definitely. Like I said, singing I definitely hear the most about singing when it comes to the benefits. And I don’t know if it totally makes sense to me that since, like I said, our voice is the instrument that there would be increased benefits somehow. And maybe it’s just that singers are more vocal in advocating for the benefits that they get through singing, but it totally makes sense that that social impact would be huge because it is so common to sing with other people. I think as pianist we often can be solo instrumentalists or just playing by ourselves, and I think that’s less common for vocalists. But definitely that social effect is really huge and people who study happiness consistently agree on the fact that our relationships are kind of like that highest predictor of happiness, having a sense of belonging, having active, involved relationships with other people. And that was one reason that COVID was so devastating. Oh, yes, being locked down. And for vocalists it was sort of doubly so because of the airborne, the airborne aspect of spreading disease, that they were kind of shut down more than somebody like a pianist was. But that isolation was hugely impactful on mental wellbeing. But we’re pack animals and so anything that connects us to others in that in that group and just that sense of belonging is huge, right?

Diana Allan: [00:17:11] And we have this need to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. And that is something that we can we can enjoy in the corporate setting of a choir, but we can also enjoy it as a soloist with our pianist. You know, we are a team. You know, I talk to my students all the time about their pianist and how how they should recognize them or how how we need to nurture our pianist because we’re this team. We can’t get along without you. So.

Mindy Peterson: [00:17:44] Yes, well, and I can speak from the perspective of the pianist that there is totally that joint effort and just that feeling of camaraderie and being a team when you’re playing for someone because you are listening so carefully to the other person’s cues, you’re watching further cues and really staying together in that way. So yeah, totally with you on that one.

Diana Allan: [00:18:10] Yes. And I think most of all, when you think about singing, it’s the benefits for your health, the benefits for your well being, definitely. But it’s a marvelous way of expressing ourselves. We sing to express what we cannot express by just saying something. Yeah. You know, as a teacher, I find it a wonderful moment when I see in the student’s eyes that they understand what the poet is saying in a song or or how the composer has set set something that they have actually felt that same thing too, that they share something with a composer or a poet who’s lived hundreds of years before them. It’s another way of connecting.

Mindy Peterson: [00:18:55] And like you said, sometimes the music can communicate emotions that the words may not be able to, or maybe the lyrics aren’t even expressly communicating that. But as a feeling and emotion that you get by singing a certain melody and it allows you to express those emotions, even if.

Diana Allan: [00:19:14] The index.

Mindy Peterson: [00:19:15] Aren’t explicitly expressing.

Diana Allan: [00:19:17] That. Definitely. And I think it’s an outlet too, especially since COVID, you know, I’ve had students who come in for their lessons and they’re in a state, you know, they’re in a state of either anxiety or they’re stressed. They feel that the world now is a very difficult place. I encourage them to escape, so to speak, for this short lesson. Let the music carry us both away until they need to go back and deal with whatever situation is needing their attention. You know, and singing music can do this for us. You can transport us away from something for a bit so that we can. Just escape. It can really soothe the savage breast, I guess.

Mindy Peterson: [00:20:04] Yeah. Well, you also mentioned that music and singing being a part of a choir can help us be a part of something that’s bigger than ourselves. And I think that really leads us into some of the spiritual benefits of singing as well. I mean, if you think about any faith, tradition or house of worship that you are a part of, it has typically always involved singing in music. And that’s definitely a way to nurture our spiritual selves. Be a part of something that’s bigger than ourselves, have a sense of belonging to a group of people. So that’s definitely something that feeds into that purpose and meaning and happiness as well.

Diana Allan: [00:20:44] Oh, I agree. One of those studies of the choral singers, when they were asked the question of how they benefited, I think around 50% of those polled said they received spiritual benefits. And it wasn’t by singing spiritual music. It was a spiritual benefit from just being involved in the act of singing.

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:05] Well, we mentioned hormones and neurotransmitters. Stress reduction. Wow. Mean endorphins. Yeah. Immunoglobulin a immune benefits all of those social, spiritual, physical, physiological benefits. And I like how you pointed out that a lot of these benefits are not gleaned or not gleaned to the same extent when you’re just listening to music and not an active participant in actually singing and making music. I think that’s an important, important distinction. And one other distinction that I read that I thought was really interesting it caught my attention is singing for pleasure can bring different benefits than singing for performance. Because when we’re singing for performance, a lot of times there are nerves and fears and anxieties that go along with that. And you’ve done a lot of research on that, which we could probably have a whole other episode on that. But it’s kind of interesting to see how some of those different benefits are gleaned depending on if you’re singing for pleasure or singing for performance purposes.

Diana Allan: [00:22:11] That’s right.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:12] Well, let’s see here. Tell us about NATS. I want to hear about that before we run out of time here. But tell us about Nat and the resources and benefits that it offers.

Diana Allan: [00:22:22] Well, I’m happy to do that. And Nat is a wonderful association. I’ve been a member for, oh, over 30 years and whether it’s networking with colleagues or learning best practices or discovering new ways to grow as a teacher, Nat’s provides our members with such a wide variety of opportunities, and I think our main value and benefit is our professional development opportunities. We conduct conferences, national conference every other year and workshops to every year in different parts of the country. We offer mentoring for our teachers, so we do one on one mentoring and group mentoring, and we have educational resources on our website in our Live Learning Center, which houses is a repository for recordings from all of our conferences and workshops where our members can go back and review different topics that maybe they had to miss out on so that the professional development opportunities alone are worth the the membership fees that we have. But we also have publications. Our Journal of Singing is the leading academic journal on The Voice. It’s the opportunity for our members to stay informed. It’s free to members and is available digitally on our website. And then we have other publications, a weekly newsletter and a semiannual newsletter. But I’m excited to tell you about a new monthly publication from our advocacy committee, Equity and Action. It focuses on ways that we can celebrate diversity within that and in our profession. So our first one just came out in January and it’ll be a monthly, monthly publication going to our members inboxes.

Mindy Peterson: [00:24:22] Wonderful. Well, and I saw on your website too, that you have a Nat’s cast podcast network that is a group of podcasts that offer resources for voice teachers and singers, singers. It’s podcasts that are produced by NATS members. So as a podcast addict, I took note of that, and that’s a great resource too.

Diana Allan: [00:24:43] Yes. One of our independent teachers, Nikki Loney, she produces the Full Voice podcast and is many of our members are independent teachers not affiliated with a university or an academic institution. And so. She has wonderful topics that are very important to our independent teachers. Another thing that is like the podcast are the NATS chats that we have is sort of a webinar where it’s live presenters and guests that speak on a variety of topics and those are archived on our website and available for people to check in with. I, I could go on and on. We have grants and awards that are used to help fund our our members research and their ongoing professional education. We host competitions for our member students and we have a NATS job center on our website where our members can look at employment opportunities across the association. But I think networking is a huge benefit. As a member of NATS, we’ve got 15 regions. Our last region that was added within this last year is an international region. So we have chapters in Hong Kong, South Korea, India and South Africa.

Mindy Peterson: [00:26:03] Oh wow. Well, I have a couple music or piano teacher colleagues who also are vocalists and teach voice, and I know that they one of them shout out to Siri that I know that she’s an avid fan of NATS and has mentioned NATS in many times in social media posts and live in person when I’ve chatted with her. So I know she’s a huge fan and it sounds great. It’s a treasure trove of resources for voice, teachers, vocalists and educators.

Diana Allan: [00:26:32] Well, that’s great to hear.

Mindy Peterson: [00:26:34] Yeah, well, you’ve done a lot of work in the area of peak performance mindfulness Cognitive strategies for performers. You have background in counseling and cognitive behavior strategies, sports psychology. You’ve written some books. Can you tell us a little bit about your books and just the the coaching that you provide? I think you’re a mental game coach, certified certified coach. I’m sure I’m getting that one right.

Diana Allan: [00:27:01] No, that’s good. That’s good. Coaching professional. Well, yes, I’ve I’ve written two books. One is a workbook that is targeted not just students, but to anyone who’s wanting to improve their mental game. It’s called the Relaxed Musician Mental Preparation for Confident Performances. It was published in 2011 and it was published in collaboration with the person I trained with, Dr. Patrick Cone, who’s a sports psychologist. And that’s where a lot of the strategies that we have adopted in the music world for music performance, anxiety, that’s where they have come from. You know.

Mindy Peterson: [00:27:41] They were ahead of the curve.

Diana Allan: [00:27:42] Exactly. Athletes have have known for a long time how important the mental side of performing is. But my most recent book is The Mindful Musician Physical and Mental Strategies for Optimal Performance. It was published in late 2022 by Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press, and this book, uniquely enough, is printed in Chinese as well as English and has yet to be released in the US.

Mindy Peterson: [00:28:10] Och well when it is, be sure to let me know you show notes so that people can get their hands on that. That’s great. Where can people find the relaxed musician book?

Diana Allan: [00:28:20] It’s available through my website, so if they want to go to music peak performance dot com, they can read all about it and then can order it.

Mindy Peterson: [00:28:29] Wonderful. I’ll definitely include that link in the show notes and also the link to NATS. Do you have any other resources that you recommend to listeners who want to learn more about the benefits of singing and maybe find a teacher or other local opportunity to sing?

Diana Allan: [00:28:44] Oh, I would definitely recommend the NATS website. It’s a wealth of information for teachers and students or anyone who loves singing. And if someone wants to find a teacher in their local area, we have a find a teacher feature right there on the home page so they can find a teacher who is an arts member in their area. The journal of singing that I mentioned a minute ago is a tremendous resource. As an arts member. One can access it from our website, but non arts members can subscribe and they can also access it through many local libraries. We have a book series, NATS has a 20 book, so you Want to Sing series published through Roman and Littlefield, and it covers topics like so you want to sing musical theater, so you want to sing gospel, cabaret, spirituals, rock jazz, music of women’s composers. So just endless number of topics and they’re just easy reads written by expert NATS members in each of these fields.

Mindy Peterson: [00:29:48] Well, this has been so interesting, and definitely the next time I’m singing in church or singing somewhere else, I think church is really the only place I sing because I’m not a vocalist, but.

Diana Allan: [00:29:59] That is a good place to see.

Mindy Peterson: [00:30:01] Yes, I will definitely be thinking about the mental and social and physiological benefits that I am gaining through my singing. Yes. Well, can I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Is there a song or a story that you can share with us today as we close?

Diana Allan: [00:30:27] Well, I’ve got a couple of vignettes here. You know, I’ve been teaching for 37 years, and as I think back through these years, the faces of so many students flow through my memory. Of course, a teacher’s career begins while she’s still a student in the observation she makes as a learner herself. And I remember my first experience in a choir as a university sophomore. I was placed to stand next to the best soprano, and we were singing Hee, watching over Israel from Mendelssohn’s Elijah and that was the first time I’d ever heard it or sung this piece. And I fell so in love with this music. And I remember thinking, if I could just read music, I think I could be really good at this. This experience really taught me to be kind and patient with my own students one day as they might struggle and work to be better musicians. And then later, in my undergraduate studies, working to connect with the texts of the songs I was singing, my teacher started calling me the Great Stone Face. This moniker stuck with me for years, and and although it was embarrassing and discouraging at times, it spurred me on to overcome my inability to show what I really, truly felt inside. This also was a lesson for me. It taught me to mind what and how I say things to my own students because words are really powerful.

Diana Allan: [00:31:56] And then there was one of my university students. I was a young teacher who was assigned the students that the other experienced teachers didn’t want or have room to teach. And one young student was in need of an experienced teacher. But she got me the newbie. She didn’t have much of a voice, but she was extremely hardworking. She never received a role in any production. She’s usually placed on the back row of the choir. But her senior year she was named Recitalist of the year. So she taught me to really look for diamonds in the rough. You know, you never know what drive hard work and passion will produce. And now I teach at a school where many of my students are non majors, most of whom have never had a voice lesson before. And at this point in my career, it’s really special to be reminded that I don’t teach voices, that I teach people, and that these young students are just as delightful as any I have taught throughout my 37 years. It’s just a wonderful gift my students have given me, as they say, You know, if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. And I’m happy to say that is the truth for me.

Transcribed by Sonix.ai