Tag: #parkinson’s #singing #choir #concert #feelgood #stleonardsonsea

The ParkinSongsters – Ten years on and still looking on the bright side

It is widely acknowledged that singing is good for you. It lifts the spirits and brings people together. Being part of a singing group, small or large, gives the individual a sense of communality, well-being and achievement. And of course it is well-documented that singing is particularly beneficial for people whose physical and mental functions are impaired. There’s just something about giving voice in song that sharpens everything, as I have discovered through a decade of running The ParkinSongsters.

Set up as a therapy group in 2010 by Parkinson’s UK – Bexhill, Hastings and Rother branch, the initial aim was to provide healthful voice and breathing exercises for people with Parkinson’s to help with the speech and swallowing difficulties that affect so many with the condition. We soon discovered that the most effective way to consolidate the exercises was through singing, and thus The ParkinSongsters was born.

The group first met on a snowy November afternoon in an ice-cold hall along the Bexhill Road. None of us knew quite what to expect. Founder member, Allan Barfield, had enjoyed singing with The Hastleons until Parkinson’s made it difficult to continue. Determined to keep himself active for as long as possible, he persuaded the local Parkinson’s UK branch to set up the group and I was approached by Allan to run it.  Reluctant at first, despite years of facilitating voice workshops for Music Therapy students, Allan’s persistence won and I agreed to give it a go.

Right from the start it was obvious to me that those who came along to this first session shared Allan’s enthusiasm. They entered into the spirit of it all immediately. It is this determination and the subsequent sense of enjoyment and achievement that has kept not only me but the group going from strength to strength over the years. People have come and gone but an essence of each of them remains with us and, I like to think, inspires people who have joined at a later date.

In 2013 the group was asked to sing at a lunchtime concert in Holy Trinity Church and it was such a success that we have not stopped performing since. Over the years we have sung in all sorts of situations, from churches to care homes, to supermarkets, a flash-mob in Morrison’s and, until recently, an annual Christmas stint in the minstrel’s gallery at Conquest Hospital, serenading visitors with a programme of seasonal songs. In 2016 we made a film about the group, funded by The Big Lottery: “The ParkinSongsters A little film about the large benefits of singing for people with Parkinson’s.” You can watch it at: www.parkinsongsters.co.uk

The group has tackled pretty-much all styles, our repertoire ranging from Nursery Rhymes to Crooners songs, folk, opera, humorous and much more.  We like to send ourselves up in a light-hearted way. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life being a favourite encore. Some whacky things go on in the name of exercises but we don’t believe in doing things by halves. Everything we do counts in small but meaningful ways towards feeling better and more confident. Above all, when we sing in front of our always enthusiastic audiences, there is a sense of self-validation.

After an 18 month gap we booked a date to meet in early September to practice for our delayed tenth anniversary concert. As I helped set up chairs, I wondered if many would come back, but when the hall doors opened at 2.30pm, thirteen keen “songsters” entered, making a beeline for their seats. Despite the freshly-painted hall, glossy floor and smart new clock that told the correct time, everything was back in place for our first live session, and a round of our favourite “wacky” Name Game began…

The Anniversary Concert takes place at St John’s Church, Pevensey Road, St Leonards-on-Sea; Monday 6th December; 3 –4.30pm; With guest tenor, Gary Marriott.

Free entry but donations invited in aid of Parkinsons UK – Bexhill, Hastings & Rother Branch.

The ParkinSongsters meet Mondays, 2.45-4pm at St John’s Church Hall, Brittany Rd. For more details please visit: www.parkinsongsters.co.uk