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Apr 15, 2019 1:09 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Singing Workshops Offers Relief To Locals With Parkinson's Disease

Warm up stretches. ANISAH ABDULLAH
Apr 16, 2019 1:30 PM

The theme of this week’s “Sing Out Loud” workshop was The Beatles, so participants filled the room with lyrics to “Hey Jude,” “Blackbird,” “Let It Be” and other top songs as a form of therapy for their Parkinson’s disease.On April 10, eight seniors living with Parkinson’s disease spent the afternoon at Guild Hall in East Hampton to enjoy the second of eight weekly choral therapy workshops. Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Center for Parkinson’s Disease organized Sing Out Loud in partnership with Guild Hall and the American Parkinson Disease Association, as a way to offer a fun activity for individuals living with Parkinson’s and their caregivers.

People can come to forget about their symptoms or even embrace them as they sit with others who face their own versions of the progressive nervous system disorder—a warm reminder that they are not alone in their battle. Those who have speech problems, a common symptom of Parkinson’s, also may notice improvements after singing, some research suggests.

“I think it makes all the difference in the world,” one of last Wednesday’s participants, Laura Stein, said of Sing Out Loud and the hospital’s other wellness programs for Parkinson’s patients. “It’s the difference between sitting and worrying about it, and feeling that you’re being proactive and doing something about it.”

Ms. Stein, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just over a year ago, then mentioned that her voice has weakened dramatically, and she found that singing helped address the problem. “I can barely sing now,” she said.

The program’s singing instructor, Valerie diLorenzo, and her piano accompanist, Amanda Jones, led the class with warm-up stretches and vocal exercises before handing each of the participants lyrics to five songs from The Beatles to sing together that afternoon. The two instructors were so full of life and positivity that the singers emulated their energy as the session progressed—some stood up to sing along, while others committed to the high notes in “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

“I think one of the most rewarding pieces of this project is that every single class, whether it’s the participant or their caregiver, somebody says to me, ‘Thank you so much for not treating me like a patient,’” the instructor said. “It’s therapeutic without it being in-your-face therapeutic. We don’t have that kind of a clinical background to it.”

In addition to singing, Ms. diLorenzo led discussions on the chosen songs to encourage socialization within the group, asking participants what they thought the songs meant, as well as what the songs personally meant to them. Because they were some of The Beatles’s most popular hits, everyone was familiar with them and had a story to share.

Participants get to choose each week’s theme, whether it’s a different genre, artist or composer, during the first week of the workshop. Ms. diLorenzo said they requested artists like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Don McLean for future weeks. “Maybe we’ll jam out to ‘American Pie’ next week,” she said.

The hospital’s Center for Parkinson’s Disease held a similar program last summer for the first time at the Southampton Arts Center, which Ms. diLorenzo also led. But when the 10-week workshop wrapped up, organizers discovered that there were many individuals who wished they could have attended, but lived too far from Southampton.

“Many of our singers came to Southampton from Riverhead, Westhampton, sort of west of the canal. And I was hearing feedback from a lot of our participants in other programs, ‘Oh, I wish singing was out east—I just can’t make it to Southampton in the summer, the traffic is too bad,’” said Sarah Cohen, a physical therapist at the hospital, who manages the Center for Parkinson’s Disease’s wellness program.

So to better meet those needs, the hospital introduced two Sing Out Loud programs to the west and east of the original Southampton venue. The first began at the Riverhead Free Library in March, under the direction of Lee Morris, a neurologic music therapist, and Renee Fabus, the associate dean for research at Stony Brook University’s School of Health Technology and Management. The Guild Hall workshop in East Hampton began a couple of weeks later, with its first class held on April 3, and it runs every Wednesday through May 22.

Ms. Stein, who also participates in the center’s boxing classes in Sag Harbor, said she attended only one of the Sing Out Loud classes at the Southampton Arts Center because it was too far from her home in Montauk.

“We’re just so thrilled to have it at Guild Hall. It’s just amazing. The hospital has been just fantastic,” she said. “This is just made to order.”

For another participant, the April 10 class was his first time at Sing Out Loud. Stephen Sicilian, an East Hampton resident, said during a snack break halfway through the class that he was really enjoying it so far, and would attend again. Having Parkinson’s disease for three years, he said he found singing to treat the social and physical aspects of his disorder.

In addition to its singing and boxing programs, the Center for Parkinson’s Disease hosts painting classes at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, as well as dance, tai chi and yoga programs across the East End throughout the year. The activities allow individuals to not only connect with themselves and others, but also access local art institutions in a way that they may not have otherwise, Ms. Cohen said.

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