How singing together changes the brain: Tania de Jong AM at TEDxMelbourne

How singing together changes the brain: Tania de Jong AM at TEDxMelbourne

September 11, 2019 50 By Kody Olson


Translator: Nadine Hennig
Reviewer: Denise RQ ♪ I’m singing in the rain ♪ ♪ Just singing in the rain ♪ ♪ What a glorious feeling ♪ ♪ I’m happy again ♪ There was a time when we all used to sing. We sat around camp fires,
at church, and at school. We sang our stories and our dreams. We sang alone and we sang together. Nowadays, not many of us sing. We think, we can’t because at some stage someone has told us to be quiet, or some of us judge ourselves
against the celebrities we idolize. So I have a question
and put your hands up: “Who in this audience
has been told by their parents, teachers, kids, partner,
or anyone else that they can’t sing?” Hands up, please. Hands right up. OK, so that’s about 85% of you, about 85% of people
who’ve been told that they can’t sing. When I was 14, I desperately wanted
to have singing lessons. My best girl friend
started having lessons. So I went around to her house one night
and I said, “Will you teach me the song?” So, we sang this song together
a few times and at the end of it she said: “Well, I will play the piano
and you sing it on your own now.” And so she played and I sang,
and then she said: “Tania, I don’t think you
should ever bother having singing lessons. You’re not good enough.” And being a 14-year-old I believed her, just like probably many of you
believed it when you were told that. And so the next year,
I did backstage in a school musical. And finally, in year 11, I auditioned
for the Chorus of Oklahoma. And to my amazement, I got the lead role, and my friend didn’t get in the chorus. And ever since then, singing has been my life’s passion,
joy, and inspiration. Our voices have been silenced,
and it’s not doing us any good. There is a taboo about speaking
or singing in public, we think that people
will judge us or make fun of us. Yet, we were all given a voice to tune in and to express ourselves. So let’s not sit in silence any longer. I want you to sit up,
sit up in your seats. We’re going to start off
with this third of the room, so just work out which third you are, and we are all going to sing this note. Now, just remember, remove
yourselves from limiting believes, and no one is listening
to your specific voice. OK, so here we go. We’re going to go ♪ ahh! ♪
everyone, breathe. Tania de Jong AM: ♪ Ahh! ♪
(Audience) Ahh! And in the middle: ♪ ahh! ♪
Breathe. TJ: ♪ Ahh! ♪ Excellent!
(Audience) ♪ Ahh! ♪ and then the top ♪ ahh! ♪
(Audience) ♪ Ahh! ♪ OK, we’re going to do it together, you start and then you keep going,
you keep breathing the same note. When I do this, that means “crescendo,”
that means “decrescendo.” Breathing in and here we go,
♪ ahh ♪, keep going! (Audience) ♪ Ahh! ♪ TJ: ♪ ahh ♪, (Audience) ♪ ahh ♪
TJ: ♪ ahh ♪, TJ: ♪ ahh ♪. How do you feel? (Audience) Whoo!
TJ: Whoo! OK! So, is your brain buzzing now? Because one of the great things
about singing is that it really connects you
to the right side of your brain. The right hemisphere
of our brain is responsible for our intuition, imagination,
and all our creative functions. It connects us to a world
of possibilities and all that is. The brain is like a battery;
the right side charges it and the left side uses
the energy and empties it. So our goal is always to keep
our mental battery charged up. However, we live in a world
where we constantly surrounded with so much information
to process and analyze. We talk more to boxes and screens than we do to one another. And so, it becomes fundamentally important to nurture the attributes of human beings that set us apart from machines: love, compassion, kindness, tearing, determination. I have a theory of boxes. We get born in a little bassinet box, and then we go home
and we live in a house, – and if we draw it, it looks like a box – and we go to school and we often
get taught to think in a box. We go to the supermarket,
we come out with lots of little boxes. And then we go to work, and we have a box
in our pocket, our mobile phone, we have a screen in front of us
which is our computer box. And we have to tick the box an awful lot. And guess what,
when we go out of this world, we go out in a… Right. So, I believe that life really happens, and that our creative potential
is unlocked between the boxes, where our mind can roam, in that space where we connect
in loving relationships with others, when we go into nature, and where we do
activities, like meditation. But do you know the best activity
for getting outside the box? Well, of course, it’s singing. Because the neuroscience
of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect
in new and different ways, firing up the right temporal lobe
of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier, and more creative. And you know
what’s really great about this? When we do this with other people,
the effect is amplified. A recent study measured
the levels of oxytocin, the hormone responsible
for pleasure, love, and bonding, in a group of people
before and after singing sessions, and the levels increased significantly
after the singing sessions. Further international research shows the benefits of singing,
learning a language, and other skills, for healing strokes,
speech abnormalities, and depression. And when we sing together
like we just did, in harmony, not only that we get
goosebumps, and tingles, “crescendo” together,
and breathe together, but also, as a recent study
actually showed, our hearts start beating together. I mean, this is a super duper drug. It’s free, accessible to all,
we all have a voice. Other theories speculate that our brains
developed along with music and singing as a survival mechanism. So, before there were
governments and nations, groups and tribes sang and danced
together to build loyalty, transmit vital information,
and ward off enemies. Literally, those who sang well, survived. Well, as well as singing, a lot of people
also don’t think they’re creative. I work with a lot of companies
and top teams on building and unleashing
creativity and innovation. And it’s amazing how many leaders
say, “But I am not creative.” Yet recently, some futurists said
that creativity has become the most endangered species
of the 21st century. We have a broadband culture
but not the creative thought to fill it. And a recent global study
of 1,500 CEOs by IBM showed that in an increasingly complex
and uncertain global environment the most important leadership attribute
is creativity. Steve Jobs said that creativity is just about
connecting things. And I’d like to suggest
that those things might be all the experiences in your life
up to this moment. So, the broader and richer
your experience is, the more tools you’ll have
in your creative toolbox for when you want or need to get creative. And I reckon,
the best thing to get creative is what I like to call
positive human collisions. That is connecting with people
on a regular basis who are really different from you. You know, we spend most of our lives
talking with, dressing like, feeling safe, and endorsing those
who are really like us. They make us feel good about ourselves. But I think our greatest gains
as human beings are when we connect to people
who are really different, who challenge us and the way we think, who take us outside of our comfort zone. When we connect with those
we feel creative abrasion, and it’s in that moment
where we actually disagree with someone, where creativity and innovation can spark. So I thought it would be really awesome to start a social enterprise,
a movement if you like, where we could bring together
the power of positive human collisions with the neuroscience of singing. And so, five years ago I set up
a charity called “Creativity Australia,” and we have a program
called “With One Voice,” and every week, we deliberately bring
together the most diverse people possible. We bring together CEOs, doctors,
lawyers, grandmothers with students, people with depressions and disabilities, migrants and jobseekers, age from 9 to 90, of all faiths
and all backgrounds. Most of the people come along
saying, “But I can’t sing.” We help them find not only
their voice, their singing voice, but their voice in life,
their meaning, and their purpose. At choir each week, we sing,
but we also share supper. We share our hopes,
and dreams, and challenges. We have a really innovative part
of our program, called “The Wishlist.” Anyone in the choir can ask
for a wish from anyone else, and so people ask for things like:
“I would love help with my résumé,” “I’d like to find a job,”
“I’d like someone to walk home with,” “I’d like to find a boyfriend
or a girlfriend,” “I’d like free guitar lessons.” Because everyone is
in such a receptive headspace because of those fabulous endorphins,
and feeling much more creative, we’ve literally connected people
to most of their wishes. We’ve created hundred of jobs, work experience,
and mentoring opportunities. We’ve connected people to health services, and we’ve even had a marriage. And we’ve connected people
to incredible hope, joy, and inspiration. One choir, “Melbourne Sings [Choir]”
has now expanded to 15 choirs all around Victoria,
and Sydney, starting in Brisbane. And we have inquiries from
all over Australia and other countries for our unique “With One Voice” model. Before I’ll show you a short video, I’d like to tell you two short stories. This is Natalie on the screen.
Natalie is from Cameroon. She came to Australia a few years ago,
and she joined the choir. Her sister was massacred, and she now brings up
her two children, and her sister’s child. She had been looking for
a job as an accountant for four years, when she joined the choir. On the second time she came
to choir, she was crying, we said, “What’s wrong?”
and she said, “I’ve got a job interview.” I said, “That’s wonderful.” She said: “No. I don’t think
I can get the job.” She had experienced so much discrimination
that she didn’t believe in herself at all. So we gave her mock interviews,
but most of all, we gave her love. And a little bit of her
started to come back. And two weeks later,
she came back to choir and she was beaming,
and she got the job in the call center; not as an accountant, but she was just wrapped to have a job
to contribute to her new homeland. A few weeks later,
the choir started being asked to perform at various major events and conferences, and we’d teach each of the people to share
their story and what the choir meant, and the choir would sing, and inevitably,
the audience would stand and cheer, and literally grown men were crying. It was really powerful. A few weeks later,
she emails me and she says: “Tania, I can’t come to choir anymore. My hours have gone
from 9 to 5 to 9 to 7.30,” and I write back:
“And who is going to feed your kids? Can we speak to your supervisor?
Can you speak to him?” She said: “No. He never speaks
to any of the migrants.” Well, fate intervened. I was asked to present a key note speech
at a major business conference, and the theme of the conference
was diversity. And I said to the organizer: “I’ve got this amazing diversity choir
called ‘Melbourne Sings [Choir].’ Do you think that they could perform
at the start of the dinner?” And she said OK, had a look online,
and she made a donation to the choir. They performed three songs, three stories, and at the end of each song, the audience spontaneously stood
and cheered, and they were all crying. At the end of the third song,
this woman comes running up to the stage and she says, “Can I have the mic?” OK. She’s got tears on her face. And she get’s up and she says:
“My name is Catherine, and I am the Managing Director
of ANZ Private Bank – Did I mention that Natalie’s job interview
was for ANZ Bank? No? That’s a pretty important fact. Anyway, so what happened was
Catherine got up and she said: “You know, this model
of social inclusion is so awesome. Are we really listening
to the diverse voices in our communities and organizations?” I got the mic back and I said,
“Well, thank you so much, Catherine. It is all about building
bridges of understanding, not walls and boxes between us. But listen, I’ve got
a little favor to ask you.” No pressure or anything, like there were
hundreds of people in the room. “Do you think that you might help
Natalie here, from Cameroon, with her hours at the ANZ Bank?” (Laughter) She handed Nathalie her business card
– the whole audience was cheering – and the next Tuesday,
Nathalie turned back up to the Sofitel [Hotel]
where we ran “Melbourne Sings.” We were wrapped to see her,
and we said, “Nathalie, what’s happening?” She said: “I don’t know
what’s going on, Tania, but everyday my supervisor
comes to my desk and asks me how am I and do I have any problems.” (Laughter) Catherine then spent further time
with her helping her with her CV; Natalie kept applying
for every accounting role, and she started
to really believe in herself, and she finally got an accounting role. Anyway, this is Beth. Beth has cerebral palsy. She joined our choir also,
“Melbourne Sings,” about five years ago. Beth changed my life. Every week Beth comes to choir,
it’s the highlight of her week. She said to her mum
and carer after a few weeks: “This is going to be
my independent activity.” She comes in the maxi taxi, we feed her, and she knows the words
of every song by heart. And every week I go along to choir,
hoping that Beth is there because I might be having
a really grumpy Tuesday, but as soon as I see Beth is like,
“Oh, my God,” pinch, “Tania, your problems
are absolutely nothing. Here is this person who,
by all rights, is caught in a box and her horizon is so big.” And she has helped us all
to step outside our box into a new space of gratitude and hope. So please, have a look at this video. (Music) [With One Voice] [Unlocking Potential] [Celebrating Diversity] [Creating Jobs] TJ: “It is amazing what can happen when you come together on a weekly basis with people who are very diverse.” [Choir sings] Man 1: “I joined this choir
since I migrated from India.” Woman 1: “I felt I found
a new family in Australia.” Man 2: “This hands-on experience has [taken] my singing
to a different level.” Man 3: “The choir has just been
the most wonderful thing for my career.” Woman 2:
“[At the request of] a choir member I applied, and fortunately I got the job.” Woman 3: “You know, like we say,
the angel was behind me. They were my angels. I went through
and I got the job at ANZ Bank.” TJ: “We’re meeting together weekly
in these programs. Each of these people experience new self-esteem, hope, friendship -” Woman 4: “Actually, we met
in the choir last week and this is our second time
with each other. And I feel very surprised
and very thankful that I can [meet] such a good friend. This is the most important reason
for me to keep coming.” Beth: “This is why I got friends
because I can’t do anything for myself. I can’t feed myself…
that’s why you got friends.” (Choir sings) Beth: “I can be here who I want
to be, apart from my disability. I could be… No one sees me as a kid.
They see me, as a person.” Woman 5: “A highlight of out year in 2011
apart from, of course, this afternoon, was to perform at the opening ceremony
of the New Royal Children’s Hospital which was opened
by Her Majesty The Queen.” Man 4: “This ‘Melbourne Sings’ is a group, not only a group, [but] a family,
a family of singers.” Woman 3: “[Do you want to smile?]
Do you want to be happy? Come with me.” (Choir sings) (Applause) TJ: Doesn’t that
give you goosebumps? [Do] you all want to join? You know, it’s said that we go through our lives
with much of our music unplayed. Imagine if we could just unlock
a little more the creative potential of our brain. As Mark Twain said: “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” We are literally changing the world,
one voice at a time. Thank you. (Applause)