Sing to beat Parkinson’s

Well, the research started in earnest today. I had the privilege to see the work of Grenville Hancox first hand. Today. I watched the group ‘Sing to beat Parkinson’s’ who meet on a Monday at 2.30 in Pimlico at the Peabody Estate. Grenville created a warm, fun and safe atmosphere. He used songs, warm up exercises as well as physical activities that were specially tailored to Parkinson’s patients.  It was also wonderful to see carers and a Parkinson’s nurse joining in the session. I felt a real sense of community.  I learnt so much today but more importantly I really enjoyed it! I can’t wait to see the more established group in Canterbury!

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Why Parkinson’s?

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In 1994, I won a place to study history at Birmingham University. I applied to share a room in halls. To this day, I can’t tell you which was more nerve racking, going to university or finding out who your room mate would be for a whole year!

Having driven up the motor way with mum and dad in car that was almost overflowing, we arrived at Mason Hall. Dad went to park the car while Mum and I went to get the key to my room. We opened the door and saw a Chinese man sitting on a bed. He was accompanied by a woman and a girl. Obviously my new room mate, and her family. But all I can remember was the panic as the room appeared to have only one bed! Luckily it turned out that it was an L-shaped room and my bed was tucked round the corner but to this day that image remains.

The lovely Chinese man on the bed had early onset Parkinson’s. My room mate and family were very private about his disease and I remember, in that way you do aged 18 asking, “why does your dad shake, does he have Parkinson’s?” At the time, I didn’t really understand what my roommate’s father and family lived with on a daily basis living with Parkinson’s.

After leaving Birmingham, I did a major career u-turn and trained as a soprano. I didn’t come from a musical family but always enjoyed it. My roommate, although studying to be a medic was a fantastic violinist and taught me so much about classical music. I had never heard Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliette before and we spent a whole evening as she played the main themes. I am sure my roommate found my lack of knowledge a little tedious but I think without that year I would not have become a professional musician. Quite soon in my career though I realised a passion for education and working with different sectors of society .

When I met my husband, it soon transpired that his father had Parkinson’s. It brought home what an impact this disease has on the individual, the suffer’s family and most importantly their partner. It made me realise that I had never appreciated the stresses that my roommate from university had been under. We had lost touch but were reunited through Facebook. We still have music in common but now regularly share the burden and often humour of having a Parkinson’s sufferer in the family. She has also been a fountain of knowledge and a great support.

I think these two major influences, spanning almost twenty years, is why I have been drawn to research the link between Parkinson’s and Singing