We smile because we feel happy, but did you know it works the other way round as well? That we can make ourselves feel happy because we smile?

It’s true: back in 1988 German researchers conducted experiments into smiling and whether the physical act of smiling could induce happy feelings.

The scientists did not want to influence the results of their research by telling subjects that their study was about emotion, so they devised an ingenious way to persuade the subjects to flex certain muscles of their face. They divided them into three groups. Group one were asked to hold a pencil widthways between their teeth, forcing a smile. Group two were asked to hold the end of the pencil in their lips which means they couldn’t smile, and were actually making a sort of a frown with pursed lips; while group three was asked to hold the pencil in their hand. Then the subjects looked at some cartoons, and rated how funny they were. The “smile” group rated the cartoons much funnier than the “frown” group, and the control group fell somewhere in the middle.

Scientists think facial feedback works in two ways. Firstly because the brain senses the flexing of the ‘smile muscles’ and reasons “I must be happy about something.” Secondly we also receive social feedback. The old saying ‘smile and the world smiles with you’ is quite true. Smiles are infectious, so if you smile the people around you are more likely to smile, and that can improve your mood too!

Well we were all smiling on Tuesday as we learned the Pharrell Williams’ song Happy. It’s a silly upbeat song with a feel-good vibe and we learned it without music. To be fair we also learned it without some of the words, which were missing from the song sheet, but with an awful lot of giggling.

I defy anyone to sing Happy without feeling…well…happy!

Chris wants us to sing it without words which may explain why he missed a few out on Tuesday! And Mike has helpfully sent me a link to a YouTube video with lyrics, which I’ve put here and also in the Practice Notes section of the site, along with Chris’s word sheets (now complete!).


P.S I’ve also put the sheets up for Ain’t No Sunshine. Hope they help.


The Osiligi Maasai Warriors

This week’s blog post is kindly provided by Clare.

“Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of attending a concert given in St Peter’s Church in Raunds by the Osiligi Maasai Warriors. It was wonderful to hear the mesmerising songs, to see the magnificent costumes and to enjoy the dancing and leaping in the air. We even had some brave members of the audience joining in! We were treated to songs for different occasions such as milking the cows and moving cattle. The whistling sounds the men produced were quite amazing!

What touched me most, though, was the talk we enjoyed by John Curtin, the elderly man who has been organising this tour for the last 15 years. His obvious love for the young people he was helping was palpable. He even described one of them as “his best friend” and I could well believe it.

The warriors also spoke very well for themselves and did a very interesting question and answer session before their last song.

The troupe sold beadwork and CDs to raise money for their village (I bought a very nice necklace). Their past tours have provided the village with fresh water from a new pump, a school and a clinic and they are currently building an orphanage. All of the money raised goes directly to Kenya and I’m sure is very well spent. If you get the chance to support the Osiligi Maasai Warriors by going to see them and buying their wares, please do. It is an experience you will long remember! I saw several members of Raunds Community Choir at the concert, so I hope someone will be able to supply some photos.”



Hate the sound of your own voice?

I recorded myself practising a song recently, so I could listen to and familiarise myself with the alto line.

I was a bit unnerved at how my voice sounded. I didn’t sound like me, or at least I didn’t sound like I’d assumed I sounded!

If you’ve ever heard yourself recorded and played back you might have experienced that similar cringing feeling of ‘listening to a stranger.’ Why is this?

Well, when we hear something, in this instance a recording, the sound travels as a series of vibrations which enter our ear and hit the ear drum. This vibrates at the same frequency and in turn vibrates the three tiny ear bones, the malleus, incus and stapes (hammer, anvil and stirrup). The vibrations from the bones are then passed on to a fluid-filled spiral structure called the cochlea and from here they are transformed into electrical signals which are sent to the brain and perceived as sound. This is the only way we can experience other people’s voices.

When it comes to our own voice though, we not only experience it in the way described above, but also in a second very different way…

During speech or singing our vocal chords vibrate and these vibrations are transmitted to the small, thin bones of the skull. The vibrations are then transferred through the bones until they too cause the ear drum to vibrate. But as the vibrations travel through the skull they spread out, and their frequency drops. This means that we perceive our own voice as being lower than it actually is.

So when we hear a recording of our own voice it sounds wrong, because it sounds higher pitched than when we hear it inside our own heads.

I thought that was quite a fascinating fact.


O Little Town of Bethlehem

Like most choirs at this time of year RCC is pre-occupied with Christmas. One of the carols we are learning is a rather lovely Bob Chilcott version of O Little Town of Bethlehem. It isn’t a version many of us are familiar with I think, but it is very beautiful and our tenors are delighted because they get the melody line.

I have always thought of O Little Town of Bethlehem as an essentially English Hymn but its roots are actually American.

Phillip Brooks was an Episcopalian minister in Boston in the 19th century. A tall, genial and enthusiastic man, he was very much loved and was a huge favourite with the children in his congregation. He was so popular that on his death one little girl was heard to say, ‘Oh how happy the angels will be.’

In 1865 Brooks travelled to The Holy Land; a huge undertaking in those days. On Christmas Eve that year he made the difficult journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, to assist at the midnight service in the Church of the Nativity.

Two years later, back in Massachusetts, he was inspired by his experiences to write a carol for his Sunday school, and he titled it O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Brooks’ carol was an instant success in the USA. It only came to England in 1906 when Vaughan Williams, the English composer and collector of folk music, arranged it to the traditional folk tune Forest Green.

Below is a link to the Bob Chilcott version which pays homage to the Williams arrangement, weaving the folk melody line into his own composition.

O Little Town of Bethlehem