THE joy of singing can help people living with Parkinson's Disease find their voice.
The Newcastle Parkinson's Choir and THE BUSHLARKS choir in Kaleen are just two of the many Parkinson's groups across the nation embracing the therapeutic benefits of singing with others.
Sandra Elms formed the Newcastle choir - also known as the Shake, Rattle and Roll choir - with the help of the now defunct Arts Health Institute six years ago after being diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2012.
She said the group had helped her in many ways - from keeping her active and busy, to introducing her to a whole new group of friends and helping strengthen her voice.
"I knew singing made people happy, so I decided to get a choir up and running.
"I'm the sort of person who needs to be busy, mentally and physically. I think the group has helped me stay mentally alert and active.
"People with Parkinson's' voices tend to get softer and singing also helps to improve breathing, swallowing and the voice."
The social side of the group is just as important. The choir's weekly Tuesday meetings in Charlestown include afternoon tea and the chance to socialise following warm-ups designed to strengthen the voice and singing.
Sandra said everyone who had joined the group, which currently has around 22 members, had become good friends.
They sing a wide variety of songs, from golden oldies to more contemporary pop songs like Queen's We Will Rock You and Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time.
The group also performs at venues including the John Hunter Hospital foyer, aged care facilities and events such as the Newcastle Music Festival.
It's a lark
THE Bushlarks choir is directed by musician Chrissie Shaw and was formed with support from Parkinson's ACT in April last year.
Members meet on Monday mornings at St Simon's Anglican Church.
The choir has a repertoire of 40 songs including popular songs from the 1950s, '60s and '70s, some folk music and even a few songs in French.
Sessions include warm-ups and a social tea or coffee.
The choir has performed several times, but Chrissie said the main objective was to celebrate the joy of singing while exercising vocal and breathing muscles.
"Parkinson's ACT had been thinking of a group for a while, but were thinking of it more from a therapeutic point of view," she said.
"I come from an arts background and wanted to make it a creative exercise for them while still offering all the therapeutic benefits.
"It's about getting together to sing for the joy of singing rather than getting together for therapy sessions, but the two kind of go together."
She said singing also helped boost dopamine levels and increase general feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
While she initially focused on songs the choir's members already knew and songs that would be easy to learn, Chrissie said the repertoire had expanded and in the future she might teach some classical pieces. She would also like to see the choir create its own song.
For more information on The Newcastle Parkinson's Choir or other groups in the area, call Sandra on 0405-441-150.
For more information on The Bushlarks, call Chrissie on 0407-079-748..