Sounds Lively! Choirs: Introducing Singing into Healthcare
Eades, Guy, O'Connor, Maggie, The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health
Guy Eades and Maggie O'Connor describe an innovative Arts in Health project, and why its success has not been recognized by the PCT concerned
Sounds Lively! Choirs were introduced by Healing Arts, the Arts in Healthcare department of the Isle of Wight Heahhcare NHS Trust, in October 2002 to persons receiving its programmes of community healthcare. The aim was to identify, demonstrate and promote the health gains to the individual that are achievable tiirough group singing.1,2,3,4,5,6
SOUNDS LIVELY! CHOIRS
Three choirs were set up as part of the Isle of Wight Healthy Living Centre (IoW HLC) in the towns of Newport, Ventnor and Ryde, with each choir meeting weekly from October 2002 to March 2005 in three terms of 14 weeks. From April 2005, after the cessation of lottery funding, the groups continued to meet on a fortnightly basis with funding from the Healing Arts/Isle of Wight Healthcare NHS Trust, and from April 2006 the groups have combined to form a single choir in Newport which meets weekly on a three-term basis with funding from a private sponsor to Healing Arts.
SOURCES OF REFERRAL
The three choirs were advertised in GP surgeries on the Isle of Wight, with Age Concern and voluntary organizations, with housing associations, other Healthy Living programmes, the Carers Association and the local press. Adverts stressed the potential health benefits - relief of stress, lifting of depression, increased self-confidence, prevention of social isolation and stimulation of the immune system.
All participants are self-referred; there was and is no formal referral system, though several persons joined after attending the Healing Arts' arts-on-prescription programme Time Being which was delivered in parallel as part of the IoW HLC.
The composition of the choirs is intentionally mixed in terms of health status. The fit and energetic support those less well and able, so as to create the feeling of belonging to a 'normal' group that happens to include persons living with the consequences of cancer, ME, strokes, stress, depression etc.
STRUCTURE OF THE CHOIRS
All sessions start with a physical warm-up stretches and breathing to relax the body followed by vocal exercises. Name games are played to ensure everyone knows each other and a tea break is held to encourage social interaction.
Songs are taught aurally, so there is no need to read music. The groups sing unaccompanied by musical instruments. Participants are assured from the outset that they need have had no previous singing experience or training and that their singing voice will fit into the group even though they themselves think or others have told them that they 'cannot sing'.
Songs are sung in harmony. Singers are encouraged to move as they sing. Songs are usually simple and repetitive so that they can be learnt and sung by heart. This is very important as this is when the singing has the strongest impact on the individual - when singers are fully engaged in the music and no longer having to concentrate on remembering individual parts or words but relying on innate memory. When the body takes over from the head people feel themselves to be 'at one' with the music and with each other.
Most songs are learnt in 15 minutes or less. Rounds work well as an easy way into harmony. Repetitive chants from different traditions create a meditative effect. Gospel songs are enervating - care being taken to select ones whose words are acceptable to persons of differing beliefs. At Sounds Lively! Choirs songs from Polynesia and Africa are sung for their simple harmony, ease of learning and strong rhythm. More challenging songs are learnt and prepared for public performance. Two members of the choirs have contributed original songs.7
The structure of evaluation has not been on a medical model as the activity is based and delivered on a social and community model with members who are both fit and diose with a health condition. …