The Art of Creating Harmony

The Inspired Voices Choir

You don’t need to read TIME, The Huffington Post or scientific studies to confirm that singing in a group is associated with better health, mentally, physically and emotionally. Just turn up at UnitingCare Caroona Jarman in Goonellabah at 10am on a Thursday morning and catch the Inspired Voices Choir in action.

A new study shows that singing in a choir could do a lot for your state of mind.

The Huffington Post

Formed in 2009, the choir draws its members from residents of the aged care services, community clients, relatives and friends, volunteers and staff. Since its inception when there was the modest expectation that 10 residents might be interested in singing, the choir has maintained a regular membership of around 40 plus singers for the past five years.

Occupational Therapist Paula Vaughan facilitates the choir’s ongoing development. Directed by Deirdre Paillas, Lismore Citizen of the Year 2010 and accompanied by “local treasure” Gwenith Boland, members gather each week to share their love of singing and to experience a sense of belonging, friendship and wellbeing.

When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. Group singing… is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

TIME magazine

The session begins at Caroona Jarman with morning tea as members arrive in groups and separately. Some are bussed up from the other two Caroona residential care services, Kalina and Marima, wheeled in by staff, family or other residents. Others arrive with walkers, or arm in arm, under their own steam, or with assistance. The buzz increases with the clink of cups on saucers and the clamour of catch-up conversations.

The complex seating routine is organised according to safety needs, voice type and mobility, the most physically able at the back and wheelchairs to the fore. The rehearsals are open to all residents and there are always a few people sitting out front as a welcome audience.

With the choir seated expectantly before Deirdre Paillas at her music stand, the atmosphere is like homeroom at school. New choir members, volunteers and staff are welcomed. There is remembrance for dear members who have died, usually with a song; birthdays and grandchildren are announced and there is affirmation of the singing to come directed towards the goal of a mid-year concert.

The singing begins with warm-up exercises and the beautiful round “One Voice” penned by Deirdre. It is a musical reminder that a choir is many voices singing as one, together in harmony, and also serves to tune them up as it tunes them in to each another.

A song list for each rehearsal is chosen from the choir’s extensive repertoire of 120 items. Songs range from the traditional such as “The Skye Boat Song” and “The St Francis’ Prayer” to the contemporary “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from “Les Mis”. A brand new song for the concert program, “Remembrance Song” with lyrics by Deirdre set to a Scottish air, is introduced for the first time.

It is not a sing-along around the piano. This is choir with serious musical chops that takes pride in its skill and experience. There is plenty of good-natured banter and laughter, and when Deirdre stops them and insists on a higher standard they are quick to respond. It is not surprising that the choir is winning audience acclaim and received a Better Practice Award 2014 from the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency.

Rehearsal ends with a poignant rendition of “Now is the Hour” and the departure routine begins. Choir members leave with straighter backs and bigger smiles of joy and satisfaction.

I don’t sing because I am happy, I am happy because I sing.

Rumi, 13th century

Neuroscience proves that music – particularly singing – makes us happier, healthier, smarter and more creative. When we sing, we create new neural pathways and release oxytocin, the hormone responsible for love and bonding. Singing also releases endorphins, “feel good” chemicals that trigger enjoyment, happiness and relaxation.

Scientists are just discovering what the Inspired Voices well know. Cheaper than therapy, healthier than alcohol and more fun than working out, group singing calms and soothes even as it lifts spirits and energizes the heart.

The Inspired Voices concert is on June 4 at 6.30pm.   See them on YouTube at

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