Mental health outcomes have deteriorated to their lowest levels in over two decades, according to a survey by Gallup in December 2020. Moreover, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that the bulk of these declines in mental health are driven by job loss and heightened responsibilities for caring for children amid evolving work schedules. Coupled with the rise in hospitalizations and rise in social distancing that prohibit much social interaction and visiting, particularly among and for the elderly, patients in hospitals are in significant physical and emotional pain. These patterns have been amplified by the effects of federal and state safety regulations and lockdowns on the labor market. Employment declined by 15% in April 2020, which is more than it has since at least the Great Depression. However, the effects have not been felt evenly throughout the labor market: these policies have had a particularly chilling effect on the performing arts sector because of their in-person services, meaning that transitioning to remote work setups is impossible.
These twin challenges pose an innovative opportunity that highlights the transformative power of the arts, namely to leverage the talents of opera singers to provide a source of joy for patients in hospitals.
Drawing upon Zoom on smartphone devices, we will pair opera singers with patients for roughly 10-15 minutes to introduce themselves to the patient online and sing one or two songs. Patients will also have the opportunity to express their preferences, e.g. an opera aria of their choosing if they have one.
There is a large empirical literature that has found that music, unless it is sad and/or dark music, has a positive effect on mental health. According to Kim Innes, a professor of epidemiology at West Virginia University’s School of Public Health, “Music seems to ‘selectively activate’ neurochemical systems and brain structures associated with positive mood, emotion regulation, attention and memory in ways that promote beneficial changes.” Opera has an especially positive effect. According to neurologist Michael Schneck, “it is the emphasis of listening to the harmonies and rhythms of classical music that may provide a calming effect for people, thus helping to lower their blood pressure.”
We will be paying opera singer for their efforts. The initial cohort of singers could serve as an experimental group for a broader investigation into the effects of singing opera on the physical and emotional well-being of patients.
In the near future we will be putting out a call to action and actively recruiting singers for the pilot run of Hope Sings! If you would like to be considered, fill out the contact form here on the Living Opera website, or email us directly at email@example.com - we can't wait to partner with you!
Christos A. Makridis