Health: Singing is reviving the lives of those hit by illness

Wendy Neill (left) and Carmel Philipsz Watson singing with Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust's Giving Voice choir. Picture by Steve Riding.
Wendy Neill (left) and Carmel Philipsz Watson singing with Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust's Giving Voice choir. Picture by Steve Riding.
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Sometimes there’s nothing better than turning up the car stereo and singing out loud.

Somehow the opinions of onlookers go out the window and bursting into song helps you either let off steam or get energised for the journey ahead – it’s arguably therapeutic.

Whether you’re a soprano or like a go at karaoke, music is a comfort blanket in itself.

Carmel Philipsz Watson, a primary school teacher from Morley, always enjoyed a bit of music but over the past nine months it has become integral to her recovery.

The 42-year-old was packing her bags for school in late 2013 when she suffered a potentially deadly stroke.

“My face had drooped on one side, my left side had gone and I was struggling with my speech,” she said. “It was strange, it wasn’t really traumatic, it was more surreal. It didn’t feel like it was happening to me, I guess it was because of my age and the idea that things like that will never happen to you.”

Within minutes her son Dominic spotted her tell-tale symptoms and called for paramedics. She was treated within two hours.

The next morning her speech and mobility had returned but her left side was weak and her ability to multi-task had all but disappeared.

Long and slow rehabilitation had left her at home for long periods and isolated, fearful of venturing out on her own, but during her recovery Wendy Neill, a speech and language therapist at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, set up a choir. The Giving Voice choir is one of the only inclusive singing groups open to anyone with neurological conditions like strokes, MS, Parkinson’s and dementia in West Yorkshire.

Carmel, who returned to full-time work in February, said: “My ability to sing and do the percussion has improved over time – it’s just become very natural, and another way of dealing with my symptoms.

“Anyone that’s gone through an illness like that can become a little withdrawn because of a loss of confidence to do things on their own. That’s what the choir’s about – knowing that you can adjust and get back to doing things yourself.”

Singing as therapy for people with speech or memory issues is based on a significant body of research. A Harvard Medical Study in 2010 found that teaching stroke patients to sing “rewires” their brains to help them recover speech.

Wendy set up the Leeds-based Giving Voice choir as a six-month pilot project in June last year. Nine months on she has 30 members who have performed at the White Rose Centre and Left Bank Leeds – its success has seen it given long-term funding.

Wendy said: “I’ve read about the positive effects of singing psychologically and physically and I knew it could do a lot, but from what people are saying it’s doing that and more.”

FUTURE BRIGHT FOR SUPPORTIVE CHOIR

- The Giving Voice choir is inclusive, open to all over 18s who have faced neurological conditions and their carers.

- The group, which has around 30 members, meets to practice at Holy Trinity Church, in Boar Lane, Leeds, every Tuesday from 6.30pm.

- The group, founded by Wendy Neill, is funded by Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust. Sessions are free to attend but donations are welcome.

- For details email givingvoice@outlook.com or call 0113 2208528.

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