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Singing For Joy

James Sills is a musician, singing-leader, author and joy bringer. Last March, as we went into lockdown, he launched The Sofa Singers a twice-weekly singing session that has since brought together thousands of people from over sixty countries to sing together online, sparking joy and human connection. Here he tells us why he believes singing is so important for community, connection and wellbeing. 

Tell us what you do?

I am a musician, a singing leader and a facilitator who brings people together to sing for connection, community and well-being. Currently, all of my singing work is online which includes the Sofa Singers and running bespoke sessions for organisations, companies and festivals around the world. 

What do you think singing can do for people? 

I think it has the power to enhance and transform lives. It can help us lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives, if only we allow ourselves to sing!

What are the different ways you use singing to help people

At the heart of all of my work is bringing people together as community. Before lockdown I was running a number of weekly in-person choirs, which included a homeless choir, a pub choir, and men’s choir, and the workplace choir in a children’s hospice. Each of these group has its own personality, its own needs and I try to use the singing to address those needs. Singing is so good for us on so many levels: it helps us regulate our breathing, improve our posture, connect to our emotions and encourage the release of endorphins. And it’s fun! 

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IMAGE: James Sills

Tell us a bit more about The Sofa Singers?
The Sofa Singers came about as a reaction to lockdown in March. I realised that in the age of physical distancing, people would need outlets of connection and joy in their daily lives. In a session, I teach and lead a classic song with my guitar from my sofa with everyone joining in from home, but on mute. We create a powerful shared moment with everyone smiling, dancing and singing from their homes. It began as an experiment, but it became clear that The Sofa Singers had to continue. We’ve just had our 90th session and it has brought together thousands of people around the world throughout lockdown. Many people say that it is the highlight of the week, it helps them feel more connected, more joyful, and hearing this makes my heart sing.

What do you say to the people who think they can’t sing?
This is something I come across all of the time. We all sing throughout our childhood, in school but many of us stop for a variety of reasons. A lot of it comes down fear of judgement, embarrassment and often been told that you can’t sing. I tell everybody that we are all born singers and we all have a right to sing. I try and create the conditions to help people feel confident enough to sing out. This was also something I wrote about at length in my first book ‘Do Sing. Reclaim your voice. Find Your Singing Tribe.’

What are your favourite song to sing to lift your mood?
There are so many! Here’s a few: Higher and Higher by Jackie  Wilson, Stand By Me by Ben E King, Lean On Me by Bill Withers and anything by Stevie Wonder!

You’ve got two young girls, how do you incorporate singing into their everyday life? Do you think it’s important to sing with our kids?
Like many parents, we sing all of the time: making up songs, nursery rhymes and for my eldest, all of the songs from Frozen and Moana! We love to sing in the car together and just make it part of everyday life. That’s the most important thing: to make it part of the everyday experience, make it fun and to not bring judgement or competition into it. This is why so many people stop singing in the first place. It’s so important to sing with our kids because it bonds us together and is a powerful shared experience. 

What is the most important thing for you with the work you’re doing?

I think it’s using singing as a way to bring people together and feel more joyful. It’s more important now than ever. Part of that is helping people overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. Before lockdown, that meant taking singing unexpected places such as pubs, workplaces and homeless shelters. These days, I’m able to take singing into peoples’ homes which is a real privilege! 

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