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The choir providing a chance to heal, perform and socialise

The Cantabrainers are a choir made up of people with brain injuries or conditions that meet once a week to socialise and find therapy in song.

Members include people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and who have suffered a stroke or a physical brain injury.

Bruce Whitfield's eyes fill with tears when he is asked about his membership in the Cantabrainers​ choir.

I always get emotional ... thankfully it's only ever good things.

Whitfield said the emotions were part of having Parkinson's disease. He was diagnosed after the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake. 

A crowd packed into a hall at Hohepa Homes on Wednesday to hear the Cantabrainers perform as part of Music Therapy Week.

The diagnosis added to about 30 years living with obsessive compulsive disorder and a stutter since the age of 4.

Whitfield had never performed, but a pamphlet given to him in a taxi in 2013 alerted him to the Cantabrainers.

It said 'you don't have to be a good singer'.

The group focuses on increasing members' confidence in communicating and provides a social outlet, music therapist and choir leader Kimberley Wade said.

When someone has a neurological condition, quite often ... they're quite hard to understand, either communication-wise or they might have different mannerisms, Wade said.
That social component can be a real loss in their diagnosis ... We use the music and the singing to access different pathways in the brain, to help them to be able to hear their voice and then use their voice.
That then gives them confidence to use their voice in the community or at home, or [to] answer the phone.

Christchurch-based Therapy Professionals formed Cantabrainers choir in 2012, with the support of the New Zealand Brain Research Institute.

The group performed at Hohepa Homes in Cashmere on Wednesday, as part of Music Therapy Week 2017.

Wade said the idea for Cantabrainers came from a conference held by a similar group, CeleBRation Choir, based in Auckland.

CeleBRation worked with the University of Auckland, which studied and conducted research to show singing could help "rewire" the brain after injury.

Wade said the group was about more than performance, but members enjoyed entertaining audiences.

For Whitfield, the choir offered more than singing.

From setting up the projector and chairs to vacuuming after morning tea, joining Cantabrainers meant he "became part of a group".

Everybody supports each other. You don't feel as though you're the odd one out. When I go to choir I try to converse with lots of people as well as the singing.
He said he wanted to encourage others to join, as the small fee paid by members allowed the choir to continue meeting weekly.
Joining the choir has been the highlight of my week. They know I stutter. They make sure they give me challenges whether I like it or not. So I never turn anything down.


Joel Ines on, Jul 06 2017


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