In the first instalment of our monthly “That __ changed my life” series, we discover how singing changed the life of soprano Tania De Jong, and how she’s helping people across Australia to find their voices too.
Singing at the top of your voice whether in the shower, in the car, or at a gig, has the power to release sheer, unbridled joy. Singing in harmony with other people however takes things to another level.
Not only does singing with others make us feel good, it’s incredibly beneficial for our health, too. Neuroscience indicates that it makes us happier, healthier, smarter and more creative. And by increasing the brain’s neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change continuously throughout an individual's life), it can also improve memory, language and concentration.
In terms of mental health, research shows that singing collectively can decrease symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. The social bonding experienced while singing with other people triggers ‘feel-good’ hormones such as endorphins and oxytocin, which in turn boost our sense of wellbeing – as well as our immune systems.
Stellar soprano and social entrepreneur, Tania de Jong AM, is no stranger to the wondrous effects of singing. Passionate about spreading her life’s greatest joy, in 2008 she founded Creativity Australia, the charity behind With One Voice – an inclusive choir celebrating diversity and the powerful benefits of community singing.
“By sharing the neuroscientific benefits of group singing and building supportive networks through our With One Voice choir program, we’re helping people connect to brighter futures and better mental health,” says De Jong.
“Creating positive outcomes for people struggling with their mental health, loneliness, social isolation, disability, disadvantage, unemployment and homelessness, is at the heart of the With One Voice program,” she adds.
The good news is, it’s working. An in-depth study of the program carried out by Swinburne University of Technology and supported by Beyond Blue, showed 98% of With One Voice choir participants experienced less stress, 91% improved social bonds, and 66% feel less depressed.
“When people come together to sing, to create harmony, they feel united not different,” says De Jong.
“Group singing helps build confidence, self-esteem and tolerance. And for those struggling with their mental health or loneliness, our choirs are a beacon of hope. It’s their safe place, their haven. Singing with others is a wonderful way of helping people who aren’t coping in life to feel better – to feel a real sense of belonging.”
From the heart
Reflecting on how singing became a core part of her life, De Jong recalls some (rather misguided) advice given to her by her best friend when she was a teenager.
“She said to me: ‘Tania, you should never bother having singing lessons. You're not good enough’,” laughs De Jong, whose exceptional singing voice has seen her travel the world as a solo soprano, as well as with her band Pot-Pourri.
“I've always loved to sing, so I didn’t give up. In Year 11, I auditioned for the chorus of the musical Oklahoma and to my amazement, I got the lead role. That was such a turning point for me, it changed my life.”
Having well and truly found her voice, De Jong is dedicated to bringing the powerful effects of group singing to communities across Australia.
With One Voice choirs bring people from different walks of life together with the objective of creating harmony – both in song and with each other.
“Because at the end of the day, we’re all here together and every single voice matters,” says De Jong.
With one voice
Despite being an accomplished performer, De Jong still gets a buzz at every choir rehearsal.
“I can be having a grumpy day, but within five minutes my brain is buzzing. Once we're all singing in harmony, I feel so happy and calm. It's very, very special.
“Singing is how I express myself; my voice is the instrument of my heart. I feel especially uplifted when I sing with other people, there’s nothing like it.”
On top of singing, With One Voice’s weekly choir sessions involve supper and a heart-warming initiative called Wish List.
“Through the Wish List, choir members grant one another wishes, both big and small. From connecting with new friends and mentors to free language tuition and help with resumes, Wish List helps people get what they need in life,” says De Jong.
“Being part of a community – where people sing together and share their hopes and wishes over supper – it’s more than a choir, it’s a weekly miracle. Over 4,000 wishes have been granted so far, which is pretty amazing.”
With the goal of rolling out 40 With One Voice choirs around Australia by the end of 2020, De Jong shows no signs of resting on her laurels.
“There’s currently 25 With One Voice choirs across the country, in every state and territory. And not just in capital cities but in rural towns too,” she says, adding: “Everything I’ve achieved in life is rooted in my love of singing, and I’m deeply passionate about helping other people to find their voice.”
“For together, we can change the world – one voice at a time.”
If you need assistance visit Beyond Blue’s support services. Our mental health professionals are available 24/7 on: 1300 22 4636. Click here for a web chat (3pm-12am AEST). Alternatively, contact us via email (responses within 24 hours).