‘You can’t worry and sing at the same time’: SingTonicity founder Siobhan explains the positives of singing

Siobhan Heaney on the mental health benefits of singing and giving yourself permission to try something new

“It’s almost like a therapy in a sense,” says Siobhan, who has a psychology background and previously worked in an addiction treatment centre.

“I started off in 2008 and I suppose really, what inspired me to do it was I’ve always enjoyed singing, but I never had the confidence or thought I was a good enough singer to join a choir or anything like that.

“My husband organised singing lessons for me for as a birthday present and really the girl that I went to inspired me to do my singing grades, to do my performance certificates and to join a choir.

“When I joined the choir, the director suggested that I should learn piano. So, at the age of 52, I was going on with little kids doing grade two piano. That followed through to doing grade eight piano, which was a huge goal that I achieved for me, because when you get a wee bit older the synapses are slower at reaching from the brain. So that was a lot of hard work.”

Siobhan Heaney

As Siobhan’s family entered an extremely difficult period, the Derry woman found solace in music, she explains:

“During that time, my only sister was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.

“I still continued my weekly singing lessons and that’s when I discovered you can’t worry and sing at the same time, because those singing lessons allowed me to boost my batteries.

“That allowed me just to kind of step back a bit from the world during that hour and then after life got back to a new normality I thought, well, music and singing can do this to me, I’m no different from anybody else — it can do it for everybody.”

Siobhan particularly wanted to reach out to people who believed they didn’t have a singing voice.

“There are loads of quality choirs where people will sing in four-part, five-part harmony, but I wanted to create something just for people who thought, ‘I couldn’t join the choir, my voice isn’t good enough’,” she says.

The founder of SingTonicity believes everyone has the ability to sing whether they realise it or not.

“I would say that we all have a voice,” Siobhan says. “We should allow ourselves permission to try it, because the only people who restricts you is yourself.

“If you’ve never done something or you’ve never done it on a regular basis, then chances are you’ll feel inadequate, but if you do so something and you learn skills and you practice, then before you know it you do have a voice and you’ll have a voice that’s worthy of being heard.

“I always make the example, if I asked somebody to go out and reverse their car into a new parking spot and they said to me: ‘I can’t drive, I’ve never had lessons’, you would say ‘OK’.

“It’s a bit the same with singing. If you’ve been ridiculed in your younger life and then as a result you’ve withdrawn, you’re not going to go and be the life and soul of the party in terms of singing and music. If you allow yourself to make that first step, then you can have a voice sooner than you know, sooner than you realise, because we all have our own unique voice.”

Siobhan Heaney after leading a workshop at an event in Donegal

Siobhan says she has never come across anyone who is tone-deaf. She has encountered singers who aren’t as polished or as confident as others, she explains, and once she works with them doing various breathing and singing exercises, those people muster the confidence to discover their voice.

Over the years, she has worked in care homes, with young parents, with groups who have been bereaved by suicide, and various others.

She does a lot of work with Derry Well Woman and the Pink Ladies Cancer Support Group in Derry.

“I have six choirs to my name ranging from a choir for adults with learning disabilities, to one under the umbrella of the Western Trust with people with enduring mental health challenges, and I have a community choir,” she says.

“It’s not just about singing. It’s really about enabling people to be the best version of themselves that they can be and that’s where I draw on my psychology background.

“Somebody did my eight-week course and at the end of it she said: ‘You know, I thought this was about singing at the start. It’s not, it’s about coping with life and learning how to deal with life’ and that kind of made me smile because that’s exactly what I was hoping to do.”

Siobhan reiterates the point that singing together can help people give themselves permission to use their own voice.

“I’ve had one lady who told me that it enabled her to go and ask for counselling help, because she never had the courage of her own voice in the past, which is pretty amazing when you think about that,” she says.

“I suppose the difference maybe between SingTonicity and a lot of other groups for singing for your health and wellbeing, is that most of the material is my own material.

“Our songs are songs that I have written and used and there’s a positive message through each of our songs.”

Siobhan is available as a guest speaker and to deliver workshops across Northern Ireland. For more information, see @SingTonicity on Facebook or Twitter, or email siobhanheaney@hotmail.com

Belfast Telegraph Life