November 29, 2011

Make a Joyful Noise: Singing and Parkinson's

Over the weekend, I got my first overdose of holiday music, 2011. OK, Thanksgiving has come and gone, so I shouldn’t be surprised to hear “Jingle Bells” wherever I go for the next few weeks.

I know how listening to music not only stimulates my brain but also helps me relax. Sadly, choir membership isn't in the cards for me, since I'm tone deaf and totally without musical gifts. In junior high school, the music teacher told me (in front of the entire class) that I couldn't carry a tune in a truck. That's an opinion I'm sure is shared by those unfortunate souls within earshot at Washington's St. John's Church on Christmas Eve, when the spirit moves me to belt out Hark, The Herald Angels Sing. At the end of that service, when the electric lights go down and the congregation quietly sings Silent Night by candlelight, I'm usually so choked up I couldn't sing even if I sounded like Andrea Bocelli.

And I'm the same guy who sneers at the uber-commercialization of Christmas.

I recently saw a report from the BBC about the Canterbury (England) Christ Church University’s Skylark choir, a group of PWPs who find that singing together seems to improve movement and strengthen weakened voices.

Michael Rawson, a choir member for only about four months, said, “We all get in this room and sing our hearts out, laugh and joke and really enjoy ourselves… and in the end, my voice is much stronger, much healthier.”

Other members explain how being part of the group makes them feel less withdrawn, improves their confidence, and helps them find new friends – a catalogue of things to keep them socially active.

Over these past two years researching Parkinson’s, I’ve occasionally encountered stories -- like this one from Canterbury – explaining how singing helps PWPs. There are many similar choirs in USA, and they’re surely gearing up for their holiday concerts now. “Tremble Clefs” is a national program with many chapters. Here’s one group doing their thing:


Looking for something with holiday flavor? Here’s a rendition of “Christmas is Coming" by a Parkinson’s group in the UK:


Good for them!

BTW, I just remembered.  I was a regular attendee at the 9 a.m. service at St. John's for a dozen or more years beginning in the early 1980's. I was trying to get all the help I could to stay sober.  Several of my recovering alcoholic friends were going to this service so I did too. Raised as a Catholic, I was comfortable with the rituals, I loved the music and, especially, the sermons by the rector, John Harper who became one of my best friends.  Another thing I liked is that, since the regulars at the 9 a.m. service tended to always sit in the same place, then vice president George  H. Bush frequently sat right behind me AND he had a worse voice than I did when it came to singing the hymns.

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