(c) Remy Franck

Since ancient times, philosophers have sought to cultivate happiness and well-being. Their intuitions about the benefits of shared creative experiences have now been confirmed by pioneering scientific research conducted by University College London (UCL) in partnership with Eric Whitacre and Music Productions. The detailed study, led by UCL Senior Research Fellow and BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker Dr Daisy Fancourt, shows how singing in a virtual choir delivers significant psychological benefits.

Dr Fancourt devised an online questionnaire to gather data from global participants in Virtual Choir 5.0. The results were compared with those from diverse ‘live’ choirs, which were collated and submitted online to the BBC Arts Great British Creativity Test. The two cohorts, comprising 2,316 singers, generated a data set that was used for statistical matching and comparative analysis. Daisy Fancourt and her colleagues used the data to focus on the under-explored area of the psychological impact of virtual creative experiences.

Virtual and ‘live’ choral singers answered questions about social presence, the connections made by individuals through face-to-face or online communication, and how they used singing to help regulate their emotions. Having compared emotion regulation in both a live or ‘virtual’ choir, the responses are stronger in live choirs, but still present and applicable in those virtual. Both groups reported experiencing improved self-esteem, greater individual confidence and a strong sense of personal agency.

Their responses also suggested that the virtual choir experience can help combat feelings of social isolation and promote a sense of connection to others. The message is clear: choral singing, whether of the traditional or virtual variety, is good for mental health.

The VC5 experience delivered several results. Participants reported feeling a similar sense of social presence than their counterparts in live choirs. Virtual singers also experienced some emotional benefits, such as the singing helping them to have time way from their stresses, and also giving them the space to reappraise and reconsider problems in their lives, although this was less than in a live choir. However, virtual singers had greater improvements in their self-esteem and confidence. Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 5.0 was especially valued by participants living in remote rural areas and by others whose horizons are limited by social isolation. In short, singing in a virtual choir helps participants feel more socially connected and see themselves as equals in a shared experience.

Virtual Choir 5.0 involved over 8,000 participants from 120 countries. Each member recorded their respective voice part at their own pace, usually at home, and uploaded the results for inclusion in VC5. Their collective performance can be heard at the close of Eric Whitacre’s Deep Field: The Impossible Magnitude of Our Universe, a unique online collaboration.


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