Last night I sang a duet with Pierce Brosnan. We weren’t that good but we had a great time. To be honest, I think I was just a bit better than Pierce - his emotional range is rather narrow.
Then Meryl Streep stuck her big head in and showed us both up. Don’t you hate it when two-time Oscar winners do that!
Mind you none of the other 1200 people who were singing along with Pierce and myself seemed to mind. They were all having too much fun.
We were all taking part in ‘Sing-along Mamma Mia’; a kind of giant karaoke for Abba fans. Most of those there had already seen the movie many times - in fact the 10 year old girl in front of us boasted she had seen it 11 times, in the theatres!
Some people turned up in really elaborate costumes - but this was the Castro in San Francisco so I have no idea if they were dressing up for the movie or that is how they always dress!
For Shirley and I this was the first time we had seen either the movie or the stage show so we had no idea what to expect.
What we found was a wonderful, fun, engaging experience. We sang our hearts out, even if we had never heard some of the songs before - thank heavens for sing-along lyrics accompanying each tune, though that did reinforce that while Benny and Bjorn wrote some great tunes they also wrote some really crap lyrics.
There’s something quite liberating about evenings like that. It takes you out of your normal setting and, in the darkness, surrounded by hundreds of other like-minded folks, allows you to sing out loud in public.
What’s even better is that evenings like this are not just fun for you, they’re also good for you. Numerous studies have linked singing with lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure and reduced stress.
Music therapists use singing to help people cope with not just physiological but also psychological problems.
The Levine School of Music in Washington DC carried out a three-year study of a group of people, 55 and older. Some were enrolled in a choir, others were not.
Compared to the control group those in the choir reported making dozens of fewer doctors visits over the three years, had fewer eyesight problems, less depression, less need for medication and fewer falls and injuries.
Other studies show that singing can boost your immune system. Researchers at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, tested the blood of members of a choir and found that they had higher levels of immunoglobulin A and cortisol - indicators of enhanced immunity - after they sang Mozart’s “Requiem” than before.
They also tested them a week later when they just listened to the music and did not sing along, and found no such boost, suggesting it was the singing and not just the music that had the effect.
Professor Graham Welch, Director of Educational Research at the University of Surrey in England, says other studies show that singing releases endorphins into your system and makes you feel energized and uplifted. It gives the lungs a workout, tones abdominal muscles and the diaphragm, and stimulates circulation.
And because singing make us breathe more deeply than many forms of strenuous exercise, we take in more oxygen, improve aerobic capacity and experience a release of muscle tension.
I’d like to add my own discovery to that list. Singing is terrific for the facial muscles as well. As we all walked out of the Castro movie theatre after ‘Sing-along Mamma Mia’ everyone was smiling and laughing and their faces were simply lit up with delight.
So next time you are feeling a little glum, close the doors and windows, crank up the stereo or plug in your iPod, grab a hairbrush or whatever you have that most closely resembles a microphone, and start belting out your favorite songs.
You aren’t singing your heart out, you are singing your heart up!