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Parkinson's Choir: Singing group helps sufferers of degenerative disease

By Ali Gordon

Published 28/06/2015

Parkinson's UK Choir Master Jonny McGeown at the Agape Centre, Lisburn Road. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
Parkinson's UK Choir Master Jonny McGeown at the Agape Centre, Lisburn Road. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
Parkinson's UK Choir Master Jonny McGeown at the Agape Centre, Lisburn Road. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
Parkinson's UK Choir Speech and Language therapist Rebecca Carey at the Agape Centre, Lisburn Road. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.

It’s a unique choir in which the music is used to boost the health of its members.

Every Saturday people living with Parkinson’s Disease, supported by family and friends, gather to sing — and exercising their vocal chords brings a range of benefits.   

The group was started in April by Parkinson’s UK in the Agape Centre in Belfast and organisers have  already seen positive responses from people suffering from the neurological condition.

“Straight away I could see that the group would be really beneficial from a social and emotional well-being point of view,” said speech and language therapist Rebecca Carey, who volunteers for Parkinson’s UK.

“There is a lot of recent research suggesting that the physical act of singing can have similar effects to more traditional voice treatment, which aims to increase vocal loudness, intonation and voice quality,” added Rebecca.

“Singing also helps promote facial, throat and chest mobility, respiratory control and improved posture — all of which impact positively on speech.”

Every hour someone in the UK is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. People living with the disease can face uncontrollable shaking, slow movements and muscle stiffness and many also experience depression, insomnia and memory problems.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, but there are a range of treatments to control the symptoms and maintain quality of life, including medication, deep brain stimulation and physical therapies such as speech and language therapy.

Since joining the choir, Belfast woman Jennifer Spence has noticed a huge difference in her husband’s ability to cope with his condition.

Jennifer explained: “Everyone who comes to the choir seems to really enjoy it and the singing sounds really good.

“They have fun and enjoy a laugh and the exercises help in several ways — some members have even said that they feel their voices are stronger.

“We have been involved in various activities organised by Parkinson’s UK ever since David’s diagnosis in 2009,” said Jennifer, who admits that she is “tone deaf and can’t sing a note”.

“Dave sang in a choir many years ago and enjoys music, so we came to find out what would be involved.

“He has been enjoying it and I can justify my presence by helping as a volunteer.”

The choir, held every Saturday, is open to anyone living with Parkinson’s, carers and families and singing experience is not necessary. The scheme is initially being run for a 12-week pilot period, but it is hoped that eventually more choirs for people affected by Parkinson’s will open around Northern Ireland.

“Everyone is welcome to join the choir but we appreciate being in Belfast isn’t convenient for everyone,” said Parkinson’s UK’s Northern Ireland country director, Nicola Moore.

“We want it to be a fun, social experience which will also give therapeutic benefits to people with Parkinson’s through breathing techniques and voice strengthening,” added Nicola.

The choir is directed by Jonny McGeown, a music teacher and co-director of the Lisburn Community Choir.

“There is a clear sense of community beginning to grow among the members, and it is good to know that they include me in that,” said Jonny.

“Music unlocks aspects of our personalities and enables us to set aside inhibitions  — at least for the duration of each rehearsal.”

- The choir breaks up for the summer next Saturday (July 4) and will be staging a special performance for friends, family and supporters. If you would like to attend please contact 028 9092 3370 or email

If you’d like to get involved with the choir in the autumn or to volunteer with Parkinson’s UK, call 028 9092 3370 or email

Online Editors

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