Exhibitionists·Video

The members of Bruised Years Choir sing to overcome their pasts — and find healing together

This undeniably special group of people know all too well what bruised years feel like, but they're finding joyful ways for those bruises to mend.

They know all too well what bruised years feel like, but they're finding joyful ways for those bruises to mend

Bruised Years Choir. (CBC Arts)

Can singing in a choir improve your mental health?

Many studies say yes and have suggested that choral singing can activate a wealth of physical, emotional and mental health benefits. So we decided to drop in on Workman Arts' Bruised Years Choir during one of their weekly Monday rehearsals to chat about this artform and how transformative the experience has been for many of its members.

Watch the video:

Members of the Bruised Years Choir tell us about the powerful impact singing together has had on their lives. Filmmaker: Lucius Dechausay 5:08

Each member in the Bruised Years Choir has faced mental health and/or addiction issues — including its co-director, Dora Award-winning artist Jim LeFrancois, who leads the choir with his long-time friend and musician Rob Joy. The choir began in 2015 at Workman Arts, a multidisciplinary arts organization whose aim is to promote a greater understanding of mental health and addiction issues through creation and presentation. Executive artistic director Kelly Straughan says, "Art is important to everyone. Its benefits are universal and they should be available to all, regardless of socioeconomic or health status."

While Workman Arts does not provide clinical art therapy, and offer a wide range of classes beyond the choir, it is clear that there is something special about this particular group.

Bruised Years Choir. (Julie Riemersma)

Singing in a group has been shown to help create long lasting social bonds, improve breathing and reduce stress. Listening to and performing music has been described as a natural antidepressant and anxiety suppressant as it releases endorphins. Plus, learning new songs is cognitively stimulating and may be helpful for those suffering from dementia. But out of all the benefits, LeFrancois points out my favourite — when a group performs often together, "they actually find that your hearts will beat together."

We loved them so much, we brought them into our CBC studios to record this song.

Watch Bruised Years Choir sing "You're Not Alone" by Lily Frost:

The Bruised Years Choir performs a Lily Frost song. Filmmaker: Lucius Dechausay 3:34

For Frost, the song is about reaching out of isolation and remembering, "We are all in this together and just have to reach out." An appropriate message to sing for a group of people who know all too well what bruised years feel like, but are finding joyful ways for those bruises to mend.

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT). Watch more videos here.

About the Author

Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.