Singing Together Feels Good

January 29, 2021 | Voice Therapy

Using Rhythms and Melodies to Feel Better

What is Parkinson's Disease?

It's a progressive disease that affects the nervous system and impedes one's movement. According to the Parkinson's Foundation, approximately 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's are diagnosed each year. It's estimated now more than one million Americans live with the disease. Despite these huge numbers, there's still no cure.

For some, the help they need comes from re-discovering the magic of music and singing.

Becoming Stronger with Singing Therapy

Music empowers and improves our frame of mind. It provides an energy boost and helps us think more clearly. Singing can be helpful for people living with Parkinson's too. Chorus member quote

Just imagine how you'd feel singing in a spirited and united chorus whose members understand what you go through daily.

Dr. Rebecca Gilbert, with the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA), confirms that Parkinson's can cause hypophonia (low voice volume) and monotonous speech. She believes singing as therapy improves these symptoms—it enhances voice volume and quality. Gilbert also says that some studies have shown that singing can also strengthen muscles responsible for swallowing and breathing, improving breathing and swallowing. All important benefits for people coping with Parkinson's.

CCM's Healing Power Contribution

The CCM Singing With Parkinson's Chorus began in 2019 led by CCM faculty member Dr. Greta Feeney.

Determined to fight the progression of Parkinson's, the CCM Singing with Parkinson's Chorus members continue to belt out tunes weekly, although currently online due to the pandemic. They may be fighting a nervous system disorder, but that hasn't stopped their singing. Parkinson's can cause tremors, stiffness and make it hard for a person to move around and carry out everyday tasks (Parkinson's Foundation, 2018). Singing and music therapy are great medicines to slow the disease's progression.

Music Therapy helps improve balance, communication, and cognitive skills. It's a mood booster producing endorphins; singing is both cathartic and constructive. Singing together also reminds chorus members that they're not alone.

Debbie Delduchetto, a current Chorus member, appreciates the weekly fun and friendship that the group provides. "It has been meaningful emotionally and musically to share my life long group singing with fellow people who also have PD.  I am honored to work with Dr. Greta Feeney, who is a distinguished teacher and former opera trained singer. Our music is for all who enjoy singing", says Debbie.

Some Chorus members are not used to singing with a group and are especially not used to singing solo. To help get over the fear of singing in front of others, Greta has the chorus read prose, poetry, funny traditional toasts, and even Shakespeare monologues, which gives them a challenge that feels appropriate. Greta says, "This has been a fun addition to the class, in addition to our weekly singalong musical numbers. We also do breathing exercises sourced from yoga, which are cleansing and invigorating, and especially important now during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they strengthen the intercostal muscles in the rib cage."

In addition to their regular repertoire, this past summer, the CCM Singing With Parkinson's Chorus joined in a worldwide initiative to create a compilation of vocal students with Parkinson's Disease singing together. "It is an honor to be asked to sing in the Parkinson's Disease Virtual Chorus, which includes over 160 singers from across the globe, and is spearheaded by Dr. Elizabeth Stegemoller at Iowa State University," says Greta. The virtual Chorus performed Dionne Warwick's "What the World Needs Now" on September 8th for Renée Fleming's Music and Mind Webinar. "Fleming is a renowned American opera singer who now serves as Artistic Advisor at large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts," explains Greta, "Her live webinar, a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, is a Sound Health Initiative that explores intersections between music, health, and neuroscience."

People with Parkinson's can join the CCM Singing With Parkinson's Chorus at any time, and there's no cost for caregivers and family members to attend. No singing experience necessary to join the group.

The Chorus is supported by a grant from the American Parkinson Disease Association Massachusetts Chapter.

Sources:

"Feel the Rhythm: Music Therapy and Parkinson's Disease." Parkinson's Foundation, 2018, www.parkinson.org/blog/research/Music-Therapy-Parkinsons-Disease-Feel-Rh...

Elkouzi, Ahmad. "What Is Parkinson's?" Parkinson's Foundation, 2018,

 www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/what-is-parkinsons