Singing benefits health and wellbeing:
even scientists say so

There’s nothing like the backing of scientists to give credence to something we may already believe in. So, it is with great glee that I can report that Oxford scientists have been studying groups of people taking part in creative activities, including singing, and found that the mental and physical health of all participants had improved by the end of their courses. The group members also reported feeling more satisfaction with their lives as a result of taking part.

For seven months scientists from the University of Oxford followed 135 adults enrolled on art, creative writing and singing courses. At the end of the courses the participants reported noticing a boost in their happiness – in particular when it came to confidence and life satisfaction – and felt more active, even if their course did not include physical activity or promote exercise.

Lead researcher, Dr Eiluned Pearce, said that participants felt that the classes ‘broadened their network of friends and gave them an increased sense of belonging,’ and added, ‘We found that the more someone felt part of their group, the more their health and wellbeing improved.’

From a social aspect, it would seem that singing in particular is a great way to make friends, since those that took part in singing activities developed relationships with their classmates more quickly than those in the other groups.

An extension of this form of study is due to be run by the Centre for Performance Science, a joint venture between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London. The research project, which has been awarded a grant of £1 million from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will specifically investigate the link between artistic pursuits, such as joining a choir, and the health and wellbeing of society. Co-investigator of the study, Professor Robert Perneczky, said: ‘We are interested in what hidden benefits the arts and culture may have in terms of improving health. If there are tangible benefits, there may be a case to be made for integrating them more fully within social and health services.’ The interesting thing about this study is that it aims to look deeper into the reasons these activities have such a positive effect on us. Principal investigator, Professor Aaron Williamon, has said: ‘We are keen to discover not only the effects of culture on health and happiness, but why those effects happen. For example, joining a choir after work may improve your health, but is that the result of socialising, creating something or a combination of the two?’








How to take a good photo?

How to take a good photo?

I always get very nervous when the press come to take photos. I never know what to do to get a good shot. That’s where the instructors help out: they are performers after all.

Last year drama teacher Liam Nooney, and our new dance teacher at the time, Antony Edwards, came up with lots of good ideas. I just had to stand there and smile, and this photo came out brilliantly.

In January, when the Oxford Mail came to our first drama and singing class at Rose Hill Community Centre, Roxy Rose sprang into action, starting straight away that those of us who were happy to be photographed should perform the song and actions we had done during the first hour of class and let the photographer click away. Hopefully at least one good movement shot would come out of it.

I have to say I am very happy with the result. I think it is quite something that all four of us look good, with not a dodgy facial expression among us. I won’t, however, dwell on the fact that, despite us all singing the same song and doing the same actions, not one of us has the same pose as any of the others. Well, at least it makes for a more interesting photo.

New Year, New You…

New Year, New You…

In our Oxford city location, we have now hosted our first four singing and drama classes of 2017, and what a happy, positive and sociable experience it has been.

New year, new you, and all that jazz. At Open Stage Arts we don’t need to reinvent ourselves, but new elements recently added to the mix undoubtedly improve the great concept, of a fun, pressure-free performing arts experience for adults, we have already established.

New location

First, there’s our new location. Rose Hill Community Centre is a great facility. The rooms we have our classes in are bright, clean and fresh, with big windows that help create an atmosphere conducive to creativity and expression. But it is not just the building that makes for a happy new home: the staff within the space complete the picture. As well as taking bookings and dealing with enquiries, getting rooms ready and generally ‘being there’ if we need them, everyone at the centre is friendly, helpful and supportive. Here it feels as though we are a part of a community, not just a group that rents a room.

New teachers

This year we have once again increased our pool of fabulous instructors, to give the ‘students’ the most varied experience we can. The teachers are professional actors, writers, directors and vocal coaches that have so much knowledge and experience to share with us. I want the sessions across the whole term to be interesting, diverse and enlightening. The individual teachers bring that diversity in spades, while at the same time complementing each other’s teaching methods and specialties.

Best of all, new ‘students’

We have also had the pleasure of welcoming many new ‘students’ to the sessions. It is good to know that I am not the only person who thinks that dabbling in singing and drama activities for fun is a good idea. Men and women of all ages have signed up for taster sessions and given us a go. Some come for the social aspect, some just to have fun; some have enjoyed drama at school or even had professional training, others have never done anything like this before; some people want to improve their voice – for speaking as well as singing – others want to boost their confidence; but all are keen to try something new.

On arrival, the majority of participants have not known another soul in the room, but after just a few minutes an outsider wouldn’t guess that to be the case. An instructor who is initially surrounded by a circle of nervous/excited/confident/terrified faces soon has the group knowing everybody’s names, joining in with all manner of activities and acting like they have known each for years. In the last two weeks we have been tied up in knots (literally), told each other ‘I love you’ and ‘Make the tea’, sung in Finnish and Ghanaian, and in three-part harmonies, written haikus and played ‘It’ in slow motion. It really has been the most amount of fun.





2016 Round Up

Open Stage Arts is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary, so here’s a little round-up of what we’ve been up to in 2016.


Teaching team

Tanner Efinger and Roxy Rose kicked off the very first class by making a group of slightly nervous but also excited ‘students’ feel right at home. Since then the teaching team has expanded to include Liam Nooney, Tristan Pate and Paul Chesterton, with new instructors set to be introduced in 2017. You can find out more about our talented instructors at

What we’ve been doing

Singing sessions over the course of the year have concentrated on arming ‘students’ with a ‘vocal toolkit for singers’. Through fun exercises we have been shown how to expand our vocal range and understand the use of chest and head resonance, how to project safely and open the voice more fully. We have sung a variety of songs in genres ranging from jazz and pop to musical theatre and contemporary folk, with a bit of swing thrown in for good measure.

The drama sessions have taught us that it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. There has been a fair amount of improvising, as well as looking at ways to build character and devise scenes, trying out accents and exploring the differences between acting based on real experiences and working with imaginary scenarios. Buzz words such as ‘Meisner technique’, ‘Stanislavski’ and ‘Chekov’ have been bandied around!

Extra-curricular activity

From an extra-curricular point of view, something particularly enjoyable is seeing the teachers practice what they preach. Earlier in the year, Tanner looked especially glamorous for his role as Holly Woodlawn in High as Sugar, which a group of us saw as part of Oxford’s Offbeat Festival. He proved how amazingly talented he is, not only as an actor and singer but also as a writer.

Another treat was seeing Liam in Holmes and Watson: The Farewell Tour. Directed by Tristan, we enjoyed a preview at the Mill Arts Centre before the show headed to sell-out audiences at Edinburgh Fringe.

In January the Open Stage Arts ‘school trip’ is to the Oxford Playhouse for Showstopper: The Improvised Musical! We have done a fair bit of improvisation over the year, and are well aware of its challenges, so it will be great to see how the professionals do it.


It is great to see new members join the class throughout the year. We are a friendly, sociable group and often go out after class.
The Wednesday morning group had a lovely Christmas lunch in December. Our new location has a cafe and bar, so we can continue socialising outside of class.


Our new home

Rose Hill Community Centre is a wonderful facility, and we are looking forward to relocating there in January. The centre has a friendly and sociable feel and practical bonuses such as car parking and an on-site café. I met some lovely people there when we put on a drama taster session at the Christmas event, and again while packing and giving out food bags with Rose Hill Regeneration Project.


The unexpected benefits of performing arts without the performance

The unexpected benefits of performing arts without the performance

The term ‘performing arts’ clearly describes creative activities performed in front of an audience. However, as I have found over the last year, taking part in performing-arts activities without the actual performance has its own rewards.

In January of this year I began meeting local performers and employing them to share their crafts with everyday Oxford folk who are not performers. The professional singers, dancers and actors have challenged themselves by adapting their teaching methods to meet the needs of people who do not necessarily wish to perform in front of an audience, but nevertheless are completely receptive to the processes, and keen to keep learning and experimenting.

My intention was simply to do a bit of acting and singing, but I have since learned that there is much more to be gained from ‘dabbling’ in performing arts. Participants tell me that they continue to come to the classes for many and varied reasons: some take part to boost their confidence and increase self-esteem; some want to push themselves to learn something new, and experience an immense sense of achievement when they realize their potential is greater than they once thought; a few of the ‘students’ speak English as a second language, and can practise and improve their language skills with pressure-free drama exercises; while others are keen to tap in to an inner creativity.

On top of the above, the sessions are great for relieving stress and making new friends.

When I decided to start the classes, none of these fabulous benefits had been on my radar, so the sessions have taught me as much as they have taught the ‘students’.

You may already enjoy performing with community choirs or drama groups, in which case the classes will complement those pastimes, but there is one final, and most important aspect that benefits everyone, especially those who do not have an acting background, nor a desire to perform in the future: the sessions offer the unique experience of taking part for the sole reason of taking part. With no extra agenda, the time spent in the studio is purely for the enjoyment of the participant, and for those two hours a week, the outside world may as well not exist.

So if you think that taking a performing-arts class simply sounds like a fun thing to do, you’d be absolutely right.