CBR Neurological Choirs Workshop, in collaboration with MThNZPosted on: Thursday, 22 March 2018

This exciting gathering at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research (CBR) planned in response to the growing number of choirs, singing groups and music therapy approaches for people living with a neurological condition. The CBR Music Therapy Week Neurological Choirs Workshop, in collaboration with MThNZ, was hosted by Professor Suzanne Purdy (Head of Speech Science at the University of Auckland, and the lead researcher with the CeleBRation Choir) , and Alison Talmage RMTh and previously Shari Storie RMTh who lead the Choir. Participants included music therapists, speech-language therapists, community musicians and students, from Auckland, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty, Palmerston North, the Wairarapa, Wellington, Dunedin… and a surprise guest was Stefano Bonnini, a statistician from the University of Ferrara, Italy, who was presenting a seminar at the University of Auckland.

The workshop incorporated both theoretical and experiential sessions, focusing on both musical approaches and information sharing about selected neurological conditions. Shari initiated an introductory session, inviting people to introduce themselves musically – while not wanting to put anyone on the spot, we acknowledged that this caused some anxiety, an experience shared by many people joining a choir or music therapy group for the first time. Alison gave a brief introduction to “neurological choirs” in New Zealand and acknowledged the overlapping interests of music therapists, speech-language therapists, musicians and community groups. Dr Clare McCann, Senior Lecturer in Speech Science, gave a presentation about aphasia and other communication difficulties arising from stroke. An overview of Parkinson’s disease was presented by Robin Matthews, Speech-Language Therapist for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board and founder of the Brainwave Singers, Tauranga. Robin is currently completing his PhD, focusing on the benefits of singing for people with Parkinson’s. Megan Berentson-Glass joined Alison to co-facilitate an experiential session, focusing on warm-ups, song choice, songleading, and balancing individual and group strengths, interests and needs. In the afternoon, participants joined the CeleBRation Choir for their regular weekly session, and several took the opportunity to lead a song.

The workshop was jointly funded by the University of Auckland, a modest registration fee, and a MThNZ Judith Clark grant towards travel expenses for some of our presenters. Feedback from both the choir members and the workshop participants was unanimously enthusiastic. Our next step is the more formal establishment of our network, with plans for a social media closed group to offer peer support. We invite others interested in this area to contact us. Selma Blazey, a MThNZ Friend member from the Bay of Plenty, also recommended that people with an interest in this field join MThNZ – membership information is available from http://www.musictherapy.org.nz/support.

Research update

This year we have a Psychology Honours student, Jordyn Thompson, undertaking a research project that builds on last year’s investigation of choir experiences and quality of life for participants in two choirs for people living with a neurological condition. Jordyn’s work includes a survey of a purposive sample of community choir participants, to help us compare group data from these two groups. International research strongly supports singing for wellbeing, for the general population, and it will be good to have some New Zealand data. If you are interested in knowing more about this research, please email cbrchoir@auckland.ac.nz.

The CeleBRation Choir is a social singing group for people living with neurological conditions, an initiative of the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research. For further information, see: www.cbr.Auckland.ac.nz/choir, and please “like” our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CeleBRationChoirNZ.

Alison Talmage and Shari Storie  cbrchoir@auckland.ac.nz