Press Release: Therapy Professionals
The Cantabrainers Choir is a choir for people with neurological conditions, such as Stroke and Parkinson’s Disease. Its purpose is not so much to create sweet music, but to provide a safe environment in which members can rediscover their voice through singing and socialising.
Established by Therapy Professionals Ltd in 2012, with a small grant from Music Therapy NZ, it was a perfect fit for this private community practice of Therapists, who since 1985 have worked with people of all ages with disabilities.
The Choir differs from other community choirs in that you don’t have to be a ‘singer’; it’s about learning to use the voice effectively, in a fun way; it suits a wide range of abilities; the pace is slower; the repertoire is chosen to target specific difficulties; it’s not as challenging; and practice is in the morning when people are fresh.
The limited ability to communicate can lead to social isolation and depression. As our voice comprises about 38% of our communication, it is not surprising it can be badly affected by many neurological conditions. For example, in Parkinson’s disease, 90% of people have difficulty with speech or voice; the voice may become very quiet, rapid, flat and monotonous.
Following a stroke, one in three have difficulty communicating. They may experience complete or partial inability to form spoken words; lack of muscle coordination making words sound slurred and incomprehensible; and problems with speech due to memory impairment or word finding difficulties.
The rationale behind the choir can be found in research, which shows after trauma the brain may recover some abilities, given effort and the right stimulation. Like getting fit, rewiring the brain or neural plasticity requires intensive exercise to be done accurately and regularly.
Also choral singing releases chemicals responsible for happiness; relaxation; connection; boosting our immune system; helping us handle pain. Unlike speech, music activates a number of areas on both sides of the brain. If one area is damaged then another can compensate, given the right stimulation.
Music and speech share many characteristics: pitch, pace, rhythm, tone and volume, which is why the Cantabrainers Choir is run by Music and Speech Language Therapists.
The Music Therapist’s expertise is in using music and singing to promote positive change with the voice. She arranges the music, leads and accompanies the choir.
The Speech Language Therapist’s expertise is in understanding the relationship between disability and how it affects our voice and strategies to compensate.
During the session she focuses on individuals, by using exaggerated modeling, while repetitive songs give immediate practice.
The choir’s effectiveness has been measured through initial outcome measures, research and satisfaction surveys. All show an improvement in the voice, confidence and happiness of the members. Anecdotally members express improved confidence and engagement in life. To quote a choir member Lois James,
The music has been a real uplift and meeting new people has been wonderful and so much fun. I have a lot more confidence than I had. It’s got me out of my cage.
Therapy Professionals has largely funded the choir with help from the $10 fee per session, concerts, raffles and some grants and donations. Evan under the auspices of the New Zealand Brain Research Institute the choir couldn’t raise enough funds to cover the choir’s running cost.