Singing group for people with Parkinson’s disease rehearses for December concert

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Region – About a dozen residents of the MetroWest area and Worcester who have Parkinson’s disease have been meeting weekly since September to vocalize and sing, at the invitation of Kelly Richardson of UMass Amherst, as part of her research into the beneficial effects of singing on the diminished vocal strength of people with the disease. Rehearsals have been at First Congregational Church in Shrewsbury on Saturday mornings.

Loss of depth, volume and strength of respiration are common effects of Parkinson’s disease. The “singers,” who may have had no previous experience in music-making, are coached through breathing exercises designed to expand the volume of air taken in and strengthen the power of exhaling the breath. Each singer’s respiratory metrics were taken before the sessions began. They are encouraged to practice and to keep singing between rehearsals. Most of the singers are reporting stronger speaking voices and better breath support because of the singing.

After the exercises come the songs. Simple, playful songs keep the exercise going. The group has learned songs in two and three parts, rounds and unison. They will perform for an audience of fellow “Parkies” at the Wednesday, Dec. 2, meeting of the Worcester Parkinson Support Group at Worcester Medical Center, fifth floor North conference room, at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome.

Research Director Dr. Kelly Richardson is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Disorders, in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst. She has been aided by Lisa Sommers, clinical director at The Center for Language, Speech and Hearing, also at UMass Amherst. The dynamic and supportive choral director is Shelley Roberts, a music educator out of Westminster Choir College and UMass Amherst with her own private studio in western Mass. Research assistant is Ashley Higgins, UMass Amherst senior. The able accompanist is Simone Brown, student at the Bancroft School in Worcester and music intern at the First Congregational Church in Shrewsbury.