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Showoffs in Print

"I Feel Good"
Feature article about confidence through singing.
Body and Soul Magazine, July 2005

When I was seven, my grade two classmates and I were encouraged to get up in front of the group to "sing a little something." When my turn came, I was so petrified I just stood there. My worst nightmare came true - I couldn't make a sound. I sat down in humiliation. The next week, the whole class groaned when I stood up to "sing." But when the song finally burst forth, the hard-earned applause was as magnificent as if I had been Maria Callas singing Madame Butterfly to a sold-out crowd at the Paris Opera. I'm sure I grew a foot that day.

Although I didn't know it at the time, in my childish wisdom I had found one of the best ways to make myself feel good - about life, and about myself. Simply, singing. Singing seems to help us get in tune with ourselves - whether we do it in a crowd, in a stadium, or on a mountaintop. Who could forget the image of Julie Andrews joyously belting it out over the hills of Salzburg? Did she look like a woman with a self-esteem problem? Singing is a simple, exuberant way to feel larger than life.

Building confidence is precisely what Art Nefsky had in mind when he started Showoffs Studio eight years ago. Showoffs is a singing workshop aimed at helping participants overcome fear and self-consciousness by singing in front of others. "People empower themselves here," says Nefsky. "And they have fun. They learn to laugh. What I do isn't therapy but it sure is therapeutic." Toronto psychotherapist Diana Donald couldn't agree more. She joined Nefsky's studio to build her own confidence-and now recommends it to all her clients. "Singing is great for people who need to express themselves.For those who need to find their voice and let it out."

And that's not all. Besides helping us bond with ourselves, it seems singing also helps us forge stronger ties with others. According to Dr. Linda Rammage, a Vancouver speech pathologist who also sings with a small madrigal group, people who are unable to express themselves emotionally through speech can sometimes communicate through singing. Bruce Pullan, a singer, conductor, music teacher and president of The Vancouver Academy of Music, agrees. "Singing is like embracing somebody," he says. "It's a way of expressing how you feel without the psychiatrist's couch. When we gather around a piano, something very important happens; it's an acceptance of other people, other voices."

Singing is also a great way to relieve stress. As Gillian Wilder, manager of the Vancouver Bach Choir, so aptly observes; "Singing in the shower is better than screaming in the basement." She recalls an afternoon when her young son, watching painters at work in their home, kicked over a large bucket, spilling paint all over the living room. Says Wilder: "When I sang with the choir that night, I felt a wonderful release of tension. I had miraculously succeeded in getting away from it all."

OK, so maybe it wasn't a miracle. But in case you think I'm making all of this up, I have got proof-of a cold, hard, scientific nature. According to Dave Loyst, a Toronto registered music therapist, the deep breathing necessary in song increases the intake and delivery of oxygen to the lungs and to the blood. That's why singing is sometimes used to help burn victims overcome lung damage at the Shriners Burns Institute in Galveston, Texas.

But despite all its benefits, we don't seem to sing as much as we used to. It came so instinctively as children: we sang to ourselves on the way home from school, we sang with friends as we jumped rope. What happened? "The purpose is to have fun," says Nefsky. And to feel better about yourself while doing it.

"If what I do is medicine, it's the best over-the-counter drug you can buy."