Singing is good for your health and won't damage your wealth.
Cock an ear in Britain today and you will realise that we are becoming a nation of warblers. More and more of us are stepping out of the shower and singing in public. Many start with karaoke and, if you are tempted,www.karaokeinfo.co.uk lists more than 1,000 venues where you can belt out your favourite number (the current most popular choice is Robbie Williams's Angels followed by Valerie and Dancing Queen).
Added incentive comes with the good news that karaoke – combined with moderate drinking – has the backing of mainstream medicos. "Drinking responsibly with a good friend makes you feel happy and healthy,'' says Japanese Professor Takeshi Tanigawa of Ehime University Graduate School of Medicine. "Singers use deep breathing, which is good for the nervous system. After singing, they usually receive applause. It is a good kind of social support, and helps in the face of adverse occasions or stressful events.''
Certainly, people seem to get a taste for it. The X Factor had 50,000 would-be stars audition for its second series, but that rocketed to 120,000 for its fifth. However, there's no need to expose yourself to a caustic Simon Cowell. You will get a more sympathetic hearing from the Natural Voice Practitioners' Network www.naturalvoice.net which has more than 250 members running choirs and singing groups across Britain – and they all maintain that singing is our birthright and should be accessible to all.
To test the theory that everyone has a voice, I approached Nikki Sladewww.freetheinnervoice.com who believes that we should all be singing or chanting for the good of our health. She predicts singing will become as popular as yoga and – having done a class with her – I think she could be on to something.
Following Slade's strong, melodious voice and the rich hum of her harmonium, I found myself mixing Indian scales and Sanskrit chanting with pure, joyous improvisation. By the end of an hour, during which I laughed and cried, it seemed perfectly natural to be moving to the music without inhibition. I left glowing and feeling energised. It was easier and more fun than yoga and, as a stress-buster, much more effective.
Slade, a former actress and singer, hit on the creative and healing powers of the voice after singing her way back to health after a nervous breakdown. She now teaches individuals, groups and even corporations (including Orange and Deutsche Bank).
Once you start singing, the opportunities are endless. Sing For Funwww.singforfun.co.uk runs weekends away on which you can combine a stay in a country house hotel with two days of singing tuition. You can even spend whole holidays singing. There are 15 different British singing holidays listed on www.hfholidays.co.uk: cut your teeth with "Start Singing" and work your way through to "Stage a Musical from Scratch" via "Madrigals and Part Songs". Further afield, www.andalucian-adventures.co.uk organises singing tours of Spain, Italy and Morocco and can arrange a personalised itinerary for your choir or singing group.
So why not go for it? Singing is good for your health, and won't damage your wealth. "Choral singing is unlikely to cost you more than £120 a year for a weekly rehearsal and a couple of performances," says Robin Osterley, chief executive of Making Music, a body supporting 2,500 music groups (1,500 of them choirs) across Britain.
And if we all get involved it might even benefit the community. Professor Grenville Hancox, director of the Sidney de Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health in Kent, has been working to persuade the medical profession to prescribe singing instead of Prozac. He firmly believes in singing as a force for social cohesion. "If we could engage more and more people in singing, I'm sure we would have a healthier nation."
How to get started
Build your confidence by watching the Mamma Mia! DVD – if Pierce Brosnan can get paid for his singing there's hope for us all. Buy the singalong version and practise in the privacy of your own home (it's up to you whether you go the whole hog, dressing up in sequins and gyrating like Meryl and Julie).
If you decide you are ready for lessons, websites such aswww.musicteachers.co.uk and www.singing-teachers.co.uk will help you find a teacher in your area. Music shops may also be able to provide personal recommendations. Be prepared to pay between £9 and £20 for 30 minutes.
If you want to join a choir, www.choirs.org.uk will give you a list of 2,288 to choose from, listed alphabetically and geographically.
Singing produces "feel-good" endorphins – eating chocolate does too, but singing is less fattening.
Singing is a great way to work out –it's an aerobic exercise that increases oxygen levels in the blood without leaving you hot and sweaty.
Singing makes you look good – it improves posture and tones tummy muscles.
It's very hard to worry and sing simultaneously – singing reduces stress levels and blood pressure.
Choirs are great places to meet people – for example, the City of Glasgow Chorus boasts four married couples who met over sheet music.