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HEALTH

The healing power of


S
SONG
eated on a platform high
above the nave in the heart
of Chester Cathedral, the
members of Movers
Shakers choir murmur in
muted voices. Then, at a
signal from their musical
director, their voices rise and soar to the
cathedral’s graceful sandstone arches.
Elegantly dressed in black, the men in
cream ties and the women wearing cream
anemone buttonholes, the choir pause as
their voices echo away in the stillness. Then
those voices soar again in The Rhythm of
Singing can be uplifting, but for the Movers Shakers choir Life: “And the rhythm of life is a powerful
beat – puts a tingle in your fingers and a
from Chester it’s much more. For this group, who are tingle in your feet.”

affected by neurological disorders, it’s a lifeline This is followed by the


haunting lilt of Leonard
WORDS CAROL DAVIS PHOTOGRAPHY HOWARD BARLOW Cohen’s Hallelujah,and a
jaunty rendition of the African
American spiritual Gospel
Train, as the alto and bass
voices echo the sopranos and
tenors. The concert ends with
choir members turning to one
another, flushed and beaming.
Yet this is no ordinary Choir members strengthen their voices
group of singers: the award- and swallowing muscles through song
winning Movers Shakers choir
was formed to breathe new life And Sarah Davies, the youngest choir
into people with Parkinson’s member at 30, says simply: “I have to use a
and other neurological wheelchair all my life, because I have
disorders – the choir rehearses genetic spastic paraparesis 11. But I love
at the Neuro Therapy Centre near Chester. and here we’re like a family: we all look singing and I love music.”
While they sing and socialise together, choir after each other.” As well as causing tremors and muscle
members are also exercising facial muscles, “We have a wonderful social life, and stiffness, Parkinson’s can affect the voice so
keeping their voices strong and staving off when I come here Parkinson’s simply people speak quietly (see pink box, left).
swallowing difficulties. doesn’t exist – if you don’t think about it, “Because my voice is very soft now, noisy
“Singing together lifts the spirits without the disease goes away,” agrees Rosalie places are very difficult,” says Lyn Law. “I
a doubt,” says Marjorie Aston, one of eight Chapman. “We’re all in the same boat, tried a loudness workshop to improve it but
founder members of the choir, which was there’s no anxiety – and singing helps your this is much better, and singing really helps
formed in 2012, and who has multiple breathing too. We go home exhausted and someone as quiet as me.”
Singers from sclerosis. “I’ve been singing most of my life, with sore throats, but it’s wonderful.” Couples come to Movers Shakers together
Movers Shakers – friends and carers come too. “My husband
perform a concert Ron was a choral singer and started getting
at Chester Cathedral What is Parkinson’s disease? frustrated when he couldn’t reach the
notes,” says retired GP Liz McClure.
Parkinson’s is a nerve cells that make it Singer Neil Diamond “That was one of the first symptoms, years
progressive neurological have died. This causes retired from touring before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
condition and around problems in the brain that in January after “So finding this choir was wonderful; it
CREDIT IN 3MM BOX ALIGNED BOTTOM

145,000 people in the UK get worse over time. a Parkinson’s inspired me to join and take piano lessons
IN 3MM BOX ALIGNED TOP

are diagnosed with it, or Symptoms can diagnosis. Michael too. As Ron’s disease progressed we’d sing
one adult in every 350. include tremors, J Fox (left) and together at night – always songs from here.
People with Parkinson’s slow movement and Billy Connolly also When Ron died, the choir sang at his funeral.
SHUTTERSTOCK

have too little of the muscle stiffness. It have the disease. “As a progressive neurological disease,
chemical dopamine, can also affect the www.parkinsons. Parkinson’s affects muscles including those
because some of the voice. org.uk of speech and swallowing,” she adds. “So
CREDIT

singing stimulates the muscles of the voice

16 Be Healthy Summer 2016 www.benenden.co.uk 17


HEALTH

box, or larynx, and helps speech, as well as


improving the muscles for swallowing.”
For people with Parkinson’s, voice
problems can be incredibly frustrating. “We
know that 60 to 80% of people with
Parkinson’s develop speech problems, and
singing is a very good way of improving
quality and voice range,” says Dr Beckie
Port, research communications manager at
Parkinson’s UK.
“People with Parkinson’s can start
speaking in short rushes of speech, and
struggling to get their words out, and singing Musical director
can help improve the loudness of the voice Howard Kane
as well as helping with quality of the voice, leads the choir
which can become
very monotone
and level as the
disease progresses.
“Parkinson’s
affects the area of
the brain
responsible for
motor movement.
Just as it can affect
the handwriting,
which becomes

Medical
progressively
smaller, it can many describe their non-motor symptoms, treatment, including bladder and urethra It’s not only people with
affect the vocal
cords, which
such as anxiety and communication
difficulties, as having a greater impact on
tests, coronary heart disease treatments, and
for surgical patients after spinal anaesthesia. Parkinson’s who benefit notes
become stiffer everyday life than their motor symptoms Stroke patients whose speech is affected from singing Studies into the benefits
and tighter.” (such as tremor, stiffness and slowness). – up to one third of stroke survivors – can of singing for people
So people have “Parkinson’s can also affect the way the sometimes produce accurate words by with Parkinson’s have
difficulty talking to family members, making And since some of the symptoms of brain deals with anxiety and stressful singing familiar songs, so melodic been relatively small.
a telephone call or communicating outside Parkinson’s can be mistaken for being drunk, situations, and can lead to depression. But intonation can help and the Stroke tense. The charity also ran a study with the However, University
the home. Yet while medication can help some people gradually lose confidence in the social aspect of joining a singing group Association has stroke choirs. Music therapy Royal College of Music: they took saliva of Iowa research in 2016
with other symptoms of the disease, there is appearing in public, says Dr Port. “But going may help combat this by improving mood, also benefits people with mental health samples from choir members before and found that “singing may
very little to boost vocal power, says Dr Port: out and joining a choir can have a huge effect as well as helping with communication.” problems too, says MIND. after the hour-long session, and sent them be a beneficial and
“People tell us that they wish there was on confidence, and improve mood and help But it’s not only people with Parkinson’s People with lung conditions who join to a lab for biomarker analysis. engaging treatment
something to help with their voice, since to reduce depression. who benefit from song. There is growing singing groups organised by the British The Sing with Us choirs helped to choice for improving and
treatments such as deep brain stimulation “We hear stories where Parkinson’s has evidence that music can decrease stress and Lung Foundation say it improves their lung improve people’s anxiety and depression, the maintaining vocal
can actually make their voice worse.” caused people to lose their confidence, and make patients less anxious during function, and brings a great rush of studies found – and those with the highest function and respiratory
endorphins which help fight depression. depression levels had the greatest short-term pressure in persons
And the Alzheimer’s Society runs Singing improvement in mood. Choir members’ with Parkinson’s”,
for the Brain groups around the country, endorphin and oxytocin levels, which relate and a 2017 Iowa study
with benefits for both people with dementia to social bonding, had also increased. found that therapeutic
and their carers. “But most remarkably, there was a singing can benefit
And when Tenovus Cancer Care set up its positive change in biomarkers related to clinical symptoms,
first Sing with Us choir in 2010, choir immune function and inflammatory including swallowing.
members told the charity how much better response in the body, both of which may be “While more research
singing made them feel. “Since we’re based linked to the ability to fight serious illnesses is needed to confirm how
in Wales with our wonderful tradition of such as cancer,” says Iwan Jones, adding much benefit may be
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music, singing was the natural choice,” says that Tenovus is about to complete an expected from such
Iwan Jones, the charity’s head of wellbeing. in-depth two-year study. activities, we know
“But we wanted to understand the biology Just as singing regularly can improve that singing is a safe and
Singing together lifts the I have used a wheelchair all my Because my voice is very soft Singing stimulates the muscles behind what people were telling us too.” mood in cancer patients, and people with fun activity which, at
HOWARD BARLOW

spirits without a doubt. I’ve life, because I have genetic now, noisy places are very of the voice box, or larynx, Working with Cardiff University, Tenovus Parkinson’s feel better after a choir session, least anecdotally, may
been singing most of my life, spastic paraparesis 11. But I difficult. Singing really helps and helps speech, as well as surveyed more than 1,000 participants, and there is growing evidence that music really aid communication,”
and here we’re like a family. love singing and I love music. someone as quiet as me. improving swallowing muscles, found that after singing choir members felt can help healing, as well as bringing joy to says Dr Port.
Marjorie Aston Sarah Davies Lyn Law Liz McClure less afraid, confused, sad, angry, tired and all around.

18 Be Healthy Autumn 2018 www.benenden.co.uk 19