The Winner Takes it All

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post on the 11th September 2015.

The Winner Takes it AllMusic and sport are the perfect marriage; they were made for each other…designed to live happily ever after. The beneficial effect of using music in sport and exercise is nothing new. Music is able to grab our attention, cause a reaction, change how we feel, help us remember things, help us overcome shyness, make us feel good and interestingly increase our work output.

Now more than ever, music is being used in the workplace to bring happiness to staff and employees, which I’ve witnessed many times during my work leading singing workshops. If you have happy staff, your staff engagement goes up and the bottom line is more than likely to be increased!

Not only are coaches using music as a tool to help motivate and promote well-being among athletes, music has found a new platform to help recording or performing artists and opera stars reach billions world-wide via the sports arena. And what does music and sport have in common? They can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of age, race, rank or religion.
A couple of examples are ‘Nessun Dorma‘ (None shall sleep) made ubiquitous by Pavarotti during the FIFA World Cup in 1990. Even non-opera fans were familiar with this fantastic show-stopping aria from Puccini’s ‘Turandot’. My young nephew, at that time, a keen rap fan was surprisingly able to recognise it. Or Holst’s ‘I Vow to thee my country’ (1921), now re-named ‘World in Union’ is famously associated with Rugby World Cup.

There’s proof in the pudding

There are a couple of remarkable examples of evidence where music has actually improved the performance of athletes. Ethiopian long-distance runner, Haile Gebreselassie, broke the indoor 2000-metre record in 1998 while synchronizing his stride rate to the rhythmical pop song Scatman. And the Great Britain bobsleigh squad at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, who listened to Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time while training, visualised themselves seizing the moment. They won the first Olympic medal for Britain in the sport since 1964. When I’m training singers for performance or groups of people in a singing team-building exercise, we use visualization as a powerful tool to ‘see and hear a successful outcome’.

There are some activities which lend themselves particularly well to musical accompaniment, especially if they’re repetitive or arduous for example warm-ups, weight or circuit training and stretching, etc. In each case, if music can match the rhythm and tempo of the activity, this will benefit the sportsman. I remember hearing how boxing champion Frank Bruno used to work-out to opera with the volume switched to full blast. No doubt the music and drama spurred him on.

When music and rugby score a hit!

One of the many joys of music is how quickly singing can break down barriers between people and engage us immediately. Our project ‘Celebrating Songs of the Nations’ generously supported by the RFU and Civic Pride Fund, brings together people who love music and sport during the Rugby World Cup 2015. We’re taking one song from each of the 20 countries competing in the championship and each song is a real hit. I’ve discovered some fascinating songs from far-flung places; would you believe that there’s a song about catching insects? Or when you leave a country, the local residents sing you a farewell? There’s even a song written by a 17-year-old architect student that’s now one of the most famous tango dance songs in the world with over 200 arrangements!

I briefly met former Welsh Rugby team captain Andy Moore, who was hoping for ‘Bread of Heaven’ as the Welsh song. I told him he’d have to wait until 1st October, our first singing workshop, to find out.

Will music and sport live happily ever after? Yes, I’d like to think so. Benny and Bjorn’s words remind us that only one team can win, ‘The Winner Takes it all, the loser has to fall’.

But perhaps actor Richard Burton sums it succinctly, “Rugby is a wonderful show: dance, opera and, suddenly, the blood of a killing”.

‘Celebrating Songs of the Nations’ singing workshops form part of a three-week music and drama festival in Richmond, Surrey, called TRY IT and are for the local community and visitors to the area including fans and friends coming to the Rugby World Cup.


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