Why Parkinson’s and Singing

As an animateur and singer with over ten years experience of working with many different types of singing groups, including the homeless, special needs children, special needs adults, school children and community groups to name but a few, I have become increasingly interested in working with more specific groups concerning mental health. In particular, Parkinson’s has sparked my interest because not only are there social benefits – a sense of well-being, communication, community, organization, enjoyment, increased confidence – but perhaps more importantly there are benefits from a medical perspective. Key of these include:

  • Dopamine – Parkinson’s patients suffer from a lack of dopamine. This chemical is released when listening to music
  • The voice box – this gets weaker as Parkinson’s progresses, but can be strengthened through the act of singing
  • Rhythm – the rhythmical nature of singing can actually help regulate the pace of walking and the length of stride. (Bower et al., 1999; Howe et al., 2003; Elston et al., 2010)

Because of these benefits (which I’m finding are being added to virtually every day as I delve ever deeper with my research) I feel that singing should be available to all Parkinson’s patients.

Awakening the Voice

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So the letter arrived last week. The Finzi Scholarship panel have offered me a scholarship 2014 to start pursuing the journey to find out as much as possible about Singing and Parkinson’s. They are funding a trip to see how groups in America work in this way. In October this year, I will be going to Los Angeles to visit the work of the inspiring Karen Hesley and her group Tremble Clefs (http://trembleclefs.com) who run a series of programmes across America working with Parksinson’s patients. I will be visiting two groups in San Diego and two in Orange County.

Until then I am going to do research in this country. First port of call is the Skylarks group run by Grenville Hancox (http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/health/documents/SkylarksChoir.pdf) in Chelsea and Canterbury and Sing for Joy in Kentish Town and Bloomsbury.(http://carolgrimes.com/singforjoy/)

Along the way I hope to find out why Singing and Parkinson’s is so necessary, how we can develop the good work that is already happening so that everyone who has Parkinson’s is given the opportunity to work in this way.

I have a long way to go……….