Music has an intrinsic power to bring people together. From the church to Coachella, vocals and instrumentals free our souls and lift our spirits. They can transform and heal. This concept has been applied to aid those suffering with Parkinson’s disease in the program Sing Out Loud.
Sarah Cohen, program director for the Center for Parkinson’s Disease at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, envisioned a musical component to a wellness program she was developing back in January 2017, built around those with Parkinson’s disease. Her vision led her to Lee Morris who worked in the Music Therapy Department at Molloy College in Rockville Centre and sub-specializes in neurologic music therapy.
“Once Sarah and I connected, we realized we shared a passion to help improve the quality of life for people living with this disease. A singing program seemed like a natural addition to the growing community offerings. Many people with Parkinson’s disease have impairments related to voice and swallowing, and singing naturally targets the oral-motor system and intensifies various aspects of speech production,” Morris pointed out. The program is backed by research, stating that therapeutic singing programs have the ability to “improve vocal quality, respiratory strength, and swallow ability.”
The program had a successful launch last summer at the Southampton Arts Center. There the seed for two more locations for Sing Out Loud was planted, one at Guild Hall in East Hampton and another at the Riverhead Free Library. The eight-week program at Guild Hall is under the direction of Valerie diLorenzo, a vocalist and teacher who led the initial program, while Morris, in collaboration with Dr. Renee Fabus of Stony Brook University, a speech language pathologist, and Dr. Peter Pece, a neuromusicologist, have gone to Riverhead.
Cohen noted SOL is one of seven free programs Stony Brook Southampton Hospital offers. Others include Rock Steady boxing in Sag Harbor and Hampton Bays; Dance for Parkinson’s in Bridgehampton; Paint the Parrish, in collaboration with the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill; yoga offered at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; Explore SOFO, in collaboration with the South Fork Natural History Museum; and tai chi, in collaboration with the Riverhead Free Library.
“The Center’s mission is to provide fitness and cultural programming to people living with Parkinson’s in the communities in which they live,” Cohen said of program sponsored by the American Parkinson Disease Association.
“Our approach, which includes systematic breath, movement and vocal exercises as well as the singing of popular songs, is based in research, and we are tracking changes in voice and quality of life measures in a research project built into the program,” Morris detailed.
There have been 10 to 13 regularly attending singers. “The feedback has been overwhelming with one singer commenting that there is nothing else he would rather be doing than singing with SOL on a Friday morning,” Cohen noted. “Since launching the Center for Parkinson’s Disease in September 2017, I have been overwhelmed by the support and compassion of this community. From these programs — including the singing — the participants have developed a strong sense of camaraderie and community that carries across and outside of the programs. It has brought together an incredible group of people. Not only do we enjoy being together, but we support and rally for each other. It has been tremendous.”
Catherine Montazem, Adult Information Services and Community Outreach Coordinator at the Riverhead Free Library vowed, “We will continue to offer these as well as others that feature boxing, dancing, and tai chi for people living with Parkinson’s.”