Why We Sing
By Julia Hollander

Publisher: Atlantic Books
February 23


Sometimes we sing because we are happy.  More importantly, we sing to make ourselves happy – and not just in a good mood, but healthier, saner and part of a more cohesive community.

Singer-writer-mother-climate campaigner and in this instance, above all, teacher Julia Hollander synthesises the volumes of research to date into the benefits of singing in this exhaustive, cradle-to-the grave study of how exercising our vocal cords enhances our lives.

But her true authority stems from her own decades of experience as a singer and a spell as a non-singer when the trauma of giving birth to her daughter Imogen, who had no cerebral cortex, silenced Hollander for more than a year.

Lockdown was a moment of more collective silence.  This book was “born”, Hollander tells us, during that strange time when everyone was thrown into reflection about things they had previously done with barely a thought.

Methodically, she takes us through the science of how we produce notes and the value of lullabies to the newly born and to the dying.  Chapter Thirteen on Death takes us to a deathbed in a care home where Hollander unflinchingly describes the possessions that form “tiny remnants from a long and fruitful life” and the “unnecessarily ghostly atmosphere” created by drawn curtains.

Citing “thanatology”, or the scientific study of death, one of the many concepts this book tackles, Hollander bravely embarks on singing a “swan song” to the dying Catherine and is convinced it brings comfort, possibly far more than the end-of-life drugs with uncertain benefits.

In between the extremes, we have school sing-alongs, anxious teenage singing lessons, football anthems, when, we’re told, all hearts beat as one, community choirs and protest songs as Hollander uses her voice as a weapon on behalf of the Extinction Rebellion.

If you still don’t feel compelled to burst into song, a QR code provides a link to a playlist to accompany each chapter.

Barbara Lewis © 2023.