A Photo of Ellen, who sings with The Bloomsbury Sing for Joy Choir

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Bloomsbury Sing for Joy is a community singing group for people with ParkinsonPATS4J Flyer p1Singing is the perfect tonic

A SMALL, spirited figure stands in the middle of the semi-circle of seated people. She lifts her arms and with great energy sings out a single word: “Freeeeeeee….” Her rich voice fills the brightly-lit room.

By JANE TAYLOR

PUBLISHED: 00:00, Tue, Dec 8, 2009

PARKINSON’S: The Sing For Joy choir sessions have proved hugely popular []

She lifts her arms again and 20 voices sing back, “….like a river!” These voices are thinner; some tremble, a couple growl along below the general pitch.

However, as the call and response continue the voices get clearer and stronger and more tuneful. This is the Sing For Joy choir, just warming up.

The choir is as unusual as its name suggests, set up by people with Parkinson’s disease for those with Parkinson’s and other chronic conditions.

Their teacher is Carol Grimes, one of the UK’s top professional jazz performers. Sitting at the group’s electronic piano is another jazz pro, Dorian Ford.

Carol has been doing this Tuesday-evening, north-London gig for six years. She confesses it’s rather more than just a job for her: “I got emotionally involved. I care deeply about this choir.”

Carol’s pushing the choir hard tonight because they’re preparing for the annual Parkinson’s Disease Society carol concert, where they are performing a diverse set all in three-part harmony.

This, for a bunch of people with a disabling chronic disease and barely a musical background between them, is no mean feat.

However, there is so much trust, self-belief and mutual inspiration going on in the rehearsal room that I have no doubt they are going to be all right on the night.

The choir’s founding force is Nina Temple, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2001, aged 44. After a long bout of depression, Nina went on a Greek activity holiday which had daily morning singing sessions.

They were a revelation. She recalls: “They made me feel very joyful but I also felt a resonance and strength in my voice that I hadn’t felt in a long time.”

When the Parkinson’s Disease Society offered lottery grants for creative projects Nina grabbed the chance to start a community choir. In 2003 she and her partner Mike recruited a dozen people from a leaflet they sent to hospitals, libraries, and GPs.

Today the choir is full and has a waiting list so long they’ve recently launched a second choir.

Not everyone has Parkinson’s. Other chronic conditions include multiple sclerosis, depressive illness, and cancer. They also welcome carers and “well” people if they are prepared to put in practical organisational help.

Nina recruited Carol right at the start. It was a good move because Carol put together their first benefit concert to raise funds when the grant ran out.

However, the benefit gig presented the choir with a dilemma: would they dare to go public and perform in front of audiences rather than sticking to having private weekly fun in their safe rehearsal room?

Backed by Carol’s wisdom and years of performing experience, they decided to go for it.

Yet Carol had some learning to do at the outset as well. Nina sent her to Elina Tirpoliti, a specialist Parkinson’s speech therapist at London’s National Hospital For Neurology, for some insight into the problems she would be working with.

“Parkinson’s affects speech in 90 percent of patients at some stage,” Elina explains. The effect can be both physically and emotionally crushing.

The disease can freeze facial muscles, reduce breathing control, make speech faster and blurry and reduce a strong voice to a small, tremulous one. Patients have to teach themselves how to speak with confidence, clarity whilst breathing well, in order to support the voice, she says.

Elina is a great supporter of the choir. “Singing is not only about exercising the voice but also getting people to perform, to communicate and reach out beyond themselves,” she says.

Choir member Judy Cooke, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago, agrees.

“Parkinson’s disease tends to make you sit back and not meet people and your voice gets softer,” she says.

“I used to lecture but stopped because I couldn’t project my voice so easily. Now, if I hear my voice disappearing, I’ve learned to speak more loudly. I really notice the benefits of that and of the breathing work we do during the warm-up.

“The tremor, the difficulty in walking and the voice are the three areas where you have to keep fighting. The most effective ways I deal with Parkinson’s are the medication and the choir.”

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I was honoured to have been asked to contribute to this Book

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Camden New Journal – HEALTH by SARA NEWMAN

Published: 10 July 2008

 

Parkinson’s sufferer Nina Temple, who founded the Sing For Joy group

Parkinson’s sufferers are in full voice!

A woman diagnosed with degenerative disease believes collective singing helps fight the condition

SINCE Nina Temple was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease seven years ago her whole life has been turned on its head.

At 52 most of her life has been focused on an endeavor to change the world rather than the metaphysical pursuit of developing the self.

The founder of Sing For Joy, a choir of people with chronic degenerative diseases, Ms. Temple is playing a pivotal role in research aimed at proving the benefits of collective singing.

The last secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which folded in 1991, she started out as a graduate of material sciences and more recently gave up her post as a successful publicity guru at leading think-tank the Social Market Foundation.

Nina is now training to become a counsellor at the Gestalt Centre in Old Street.

Although she does not rule out conventional medicine in the future, her experience of Parkinson’s is such that she is in a position to try alternative therapies, including classes in pilates at the Royal Free Hospital.

The movement disorder is characterised by muscle rigidity, tremors, and a stooped, shuffling gait. Parkinson’s sufferers’ speech can seem cluttered or even unintelligible.

They know that their affliction is degenerative and that dementia, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and memory loss are possible outcomes of living with the disease.

When Nina was told, she had Parkinson’s in 2001 she was at a loss as to how to deal with it.

“The doctors said it’s incurable, it’s progressive and here are the drugs,” she said.

“Most health experts would say ‘keep cheerful’. Those things just didn’t seem to go together for me.”

Nina is now determined that others can be spared the same experience.

“The more I learn about counselling and read about psychotherapy the more I believe physical diseases are expressions of emotional problems or other lifestyle issues,” she said.

“If I sit still somewhere and get into a meditative state, then it calms right down, but if I’m stressed, it gets worse.”

Nina, the founder of the Democratic Left party and a campaigner for the Make Votes Count campaign, said: “I have noticed that the people who were really interested in changing the world weren’t actually interested in the people around them.

“I have become much more aware of the importance of people around me and maybe making a change on a small scale and making the community stronger.”

Set up with the help of the Parkinson’s Disease Society, Sing For Joy performed at the Trades Union Congress building in Great Russell Street for 300 guests on Saturday.

National Lottery funding was secured in 2003 enabling the group to rent the premises of a theatre company for ex-offenders, Clean Break, in Patshull Road, Kentish Town, and employ the skills of jazz singer and teacher Carol Grimes, and pianist Dorian Ford.

“One of the issues with Parkinson’s is that people get depressed,” said Nina.

“But people come out of the classes feeling really great. We have noticed a dramatic immediate effect.”

Dr. Wendy Magee, at the Institute of Neuropalliative Rehabilitation in Putney, is due to present a conference paper in Folkstone in September exploring the benefits of communal music-making for sufferers of such chronic conditions.

The service user-led research will explore what the patients think needs researching rather than academics.

Dr. Magee, who has conducted research on the improved articulation of patients who sing, said: “These are people who have a long experience working in this choir together.

“We are exploring together how we can move forward.”

Singing is the perfect tonic

A SMALL, spirited figure stands in the middle of the semi-circle of seated people. She lifts her arms and with great energy sings out a single word: “Freeeeeeee….” Her rich voice fills the brightly-lit room.

PARKINSON’S: The Sing For Joy choir sessions have proved hugely popular []

She lifts her arms again and 20 voices sing back, “….like a river!” These voices are thinner; some tremble, a couple growl along below the general pitch.

However, as the call and response continue the voices get clearer and stronger and more tuneful. This is the Sing For Joy choir, just warming up.

The choir is as unusual as its name suggests, set up by people with Parkinson’s disease for those with Parkinson’s and other chronic conditions.

Their teacher is Carol Grimes, one of the UK’s top professional jazz performers. Sitting at the group’s electronic piano is another jazz pro, Dorian Ford.

Carol has been doing this Tuesday-evening, north-London gig for six years. She confesses it’s rather more than just a job for her: “I got emotionally involved. I care deeply about this choir.”

Carol’s pushing the choir hard tonight because they’re preparing for the annual Parkinson’s Disease Society carol concert, where they are performing a diverse set all in three-part harmony.

This, for a bunch of people with a disabling chronic disease and barely a musical background between them, is no mean feat.

However, there is so much trust, self-belief and mutual inspiration going on in the rehearsal room that I have no doubt they are going to be all right on the night.

The choir’s founding force is Nina Temple, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2001, aged 44. After a long bout of depression, Nina went on a Greek activity holiday which had daily morning singing sessions.

They were a revelation. She recalls: “They made me feel very joyful but I also felt a resonance and strength in my voice that I hadn’t felt in a long time.”

When the Parkinson’s Disease Society offered lottery grants for creative projects Nina grabbed the chance to start a community choir. In 2003 she and her partner Mike recruited a dozen people from a leaflet they sent to hospitals, libraries, and GPs.

Today the choir is full and has a waiting list so long they’ve recently launched the second choir.

Not everyone has Parkinson’s. Other chronic conditions include multiple sclerosis, depressive illness, and cancer. They also welcome carers and “well” people if they are prepared to put in practical organisational help.

Nina recruited Carol right at the start. It was a good move because Carol put together their first benefit concert to raise funds when the grant ran out.

However, the benefit gig presented the choir with a dilemma: would they dare to go public and perform in front of audiences rather than sticking to having private weekly fun in their safe rehearsal room?

Backed by Carol’s wisdom and years of performing experience, they decided to go for it.

Yet Carol had some learning to do at the outset as well. Nina sent her to Elina Tirpoliti, a specialist Parkinson’s speech therapist at London’s National Hospital For Neurology, for some insight into the problems she would be working with.

“Parkinson’s affects speech in 90 percent of patients at some stage,” Elina explains. The effect can be both physically and emotionally crushing.

The disease can freeze facial muscles, reduce breathing control, make speech faster and blurry and reduce a strong voice to a small, tremulous one. Patients have to teach themselves how to speak and breathe well she says.

Elina is a great supporter of the choir. “Singing is not only about exercising the voice but also getting people to perform, to communicate and reach out beyond themselves,” she says.

Choir member Judy Cooke, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago, agrees.

“Parkinson’s disease tends to make you sit back and not meet people and your voice gets softer,” she says.

“I used to lecture but stopped because I couldn’t project my voice so easily. Now, if I hear my voice disappearing, I’ve learned to speak more loudly. I really notice the benefits of that and of the breathing work we do during the warm-up.

“The tremor, the difficulty in walking and the voice are the three areas where you have to keep fighting. The most effective ways I deal with Parkinson’s are the medication and the choir.”

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Sing For Joy Bloomsbury at Stoke Newington Town Hall

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