One day each week, students, ranging anywhere from the age of 50 onwards, file into Lantzville’s St. Philip by-the-Sea Anglican Church.
Once inside, the students, who come from all over the Nanaimo area, sing, smile, laugh and sometimes they act out drama skits.
To any onlooker, the event might appear as a simple music or drama class, but it’s much more than that to the participants and instructors.
For the past two weeks, Megan Keene, Hugh Yardley and Sharon Tomczyk have been running a unique vocal therapy program called SongShine Vancouver Island. The program is tailored for those who have had their voices compromised as a result of having Parkinson’s disease, a stroke or any other neurological disorder.
“It’s an accessible arts and health-care program for folks dealing with neurological diseases and issues such as Parkinson’s disease,” Keene said. “The focus of the program is to strengthen participants’ voices and enhance their quality of life.”
SongShine originates from the United States and began as a pilot study program at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The SongShine program incorporates the concepts of vocal speech exercises, physical awareness, breathing techniques and emotion and imagination in an effort to help people regain their voices.
“Those … concepts combined, add to people developing neurological connection between their brain and their voices,” Yardley said. “The brain has been proven to be plastic. The idea that the brain becomes less plastic when we get older is false. Our neuroplasticity actually increases if we use our brain and we are able to re-engage the brain using these exercises.”
Tomczyk said the program’s exercises are designed to help people regain the use of some of the facial and vocal muscles by changing their approach to saying a specific word or vowel, which in turn can help them regain their ability to speak.
“The idea is by using these exercises that they will be able to regain, to some extent, the use of those muscle by refocusing … the way they might say a vowel,” she said.
Yardley explained that music is a big component of the program because different parts of the brain are activated through music and sound.
“Music has been proven … to use both sides of the brain. With music you are able to imprint in different areas,” he said. “If one part of the brain has ceased to function, through whatever has happened neurologically, you are able to rewire the brain because there are different parts of the brain that are activated through music.”
Keene, Yardley and Tomczyk, who have more than three decades of experience teaching music and working in health care, have also been teaching SongShine to people in the Parksville region for the past three months.
“Music can heal. It has such a wide scope of healing potential,” Yardley said. “This is a great program in that it brings in music to help people.”
Lantzville classes run 11 a.m. to noon and cost $10 per class. For more information, please visit www.songshinevi.org.