This article first appeared in the Huffington Post on the 21st May 2015.
I’ve always loved creating unique combinations. Whether it’s my own cooking (I’ve collated cookbooks from every country ever visited) or my wild (and sometimes wise) wardrobe or mixing my home décor with the old and the new. I love being individual.
My father married an Austrian lady back in 1955 in London. It was an unusual and brave step forwards then. I remember my mother feeling ostracised though, because of her nationality. I suppose I had it in my genes as years later, I followed suit by marrying a wonderful Welshman, with Chinese origins.
Maybe that innate urge to bring people together from different cultures led me to create these community singing workshops for the Rugby World Cup 2015 entitled ‘Celebrating Songs of the Nations’. Why not promote friendship and understanding between nations instead of warring with the other! As in the words of the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald, “The only thing better than singing is more singing”.
Visitors to the UK, spectators and local residents will have the opportunity to learn songs from each of the 20 countries taking part in the Rugby World Cup this October, as part of a three-week Music and Drama Festival in Richmond upon Thames (which includes Twickenham stadium – the home of England rugby). Each country will have a voice equal to the others. How many of us can hum a tune from Fiji, Tonga or Namibia? What better way to learn about the various countries than through song: the particular nuances, the use of poetry and text, the rhythmic meter, the melodic lines, the harmony, if any?
Apart from the passion I personally have for promoting singing as a fantastic and happy activity, these community based singing workshops will reach a more diverse range of backgrounds, including not only musical followers but also sporting and travel aficionados. If you’re munching into your breakfast cereal this morning, spare a thought for the chap who invented Cornflakes, Mr Kellogg, who in 1931 said, “Singing promotes health, breathing, circulation and digestion.”
It’s interesting to note that there are now more choirs in the UK than fish and chip shops, and that there are so many television programmes promoting singing as a wonderful community activity. Singing with other people can measurably improve physical and mental health. Research carried out by specialists at the Journal of Applied Arts & Health, found half-a-dozen ways in which singing helps our mental health: from improving cognitive function to social confidence. The benefits appear to be endless.
Even respiratory consultant Dr Nicholas Hopkinson at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, admits “Patients who sing are breathing more slowly and breathing from their diaphragms rather than upper chest, both of which are very beneficial in conditions like emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis.” I’ve even had the privilege of running a singing session at this very hospital, showing the doctors how to use their voices whilst warbling along to Abba’s “I have a Dream”.
Some truly astonishing research by Frankfurt University a few years ago, found that after rehearsals of Mozart’s Requiem by a local choir, saliva taken from the singers, found increased secretion of antibodies! Studies have shown how it reduces the chance for bacteria to dwell in the upper respiratory tract, thus preventing colds and flu, especially in the colder months.
If we know it’s good for us, why not come and join us this October?
More details will be found on the council’s festival here http://www.richmond.gov.uk/music_and_drama_festival.
Helen Astrid has been awarded a ‘Civic Pride Fund’ by Richmond-upon-Thames Council to help meet some of the costs involved for this project.
The workshops will be held on Thursday 1st, 8th and 15th of October, 2015 from 1645 to 1815. Doors open at 1630. They are part of the first Richmond upon Thames Music and Drama Festival. People will be able to register to take part on council’s website from June onwards: http://www.richmond.gov.uk/music_and_drama_festival.
Helen Astrid is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London. An opera singer, she has performed at some of the major venues in the UK, including English National Opera, Garsington Festival Opera and the South Bank. She has also appeared in the West End hit musical ‘Phantom of the Opera’. She appears on radio and TV as an expert in singing and the voice and has written a book called ‘Singing tips at your fingertips’, available on Amazon.