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Arla Good

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Arla Good


Arla Good: On what music and health means to her

My name is Arla Good. I am the co-direc­tor and chief researcher of SingWell Project.

The SingWell Project is a net­work of researchers, com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, prac­ti­tion­ers, choirs across Cana­da and beyond. We’re all work­ing towards the same goal which is to doc­u­ment and advo­cate for the ben­e­fits of group singing. In par­tic­u­lar, we’re inter­est­ed in peo­ple who have com­mu­ni­ca­tion chal­lenges. So the ques­tion is how can group singing sup­port both the com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the social well-being of these types of individuals.

I want to start by acknowl­edg­ing the pow­er of music for music’s sake and art for art’s sake, with­out dimin­ish­ing that, I think that there’s also lots of ways in which we can use music to sup­port well-being and health. In our par­tic­u­lar con­text with SingWell, we’re inter­est­ed in how we can use singing as a very acces­si­ble, scal­able way to get lots of peo­ple involved. How we can use singing to sup­port the health and well-being of usu­al­ly old­er adults, so using it as a reha­bil­i­ta­tion tool. Using it as a tool for get­ting peo­ple togeth­er for com­mu­ni­ty build­ing, for belong­ing, and for boost­ing mood.

We see the bio­log­i­cal impact of singing, so under­stand­ing what’s hap­pen­ing in the body when we’re singing. It makes peo­ple feel good and that’s what, for me, music and health is.

Arla Good: On the impacts of a SingWell ses­sion on music and health

Over the last three or four years, we have been seed­ing choirs in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties. So we focus on Parkin­son’s, apha­sia, lung dis­ease, hear­ing loss and stut­ter­ing ‚and we have choirs (in which) we are track­ing some of these psy­choso­cial well-being benefits.

So a typ­i­cal sin­gle study might look some­thing like this. We would start a choir usu­al­ly around 12  to 15 peo­ple, and the choir would run for about 12 ses­sions. We would track at the base­line and com­ple­tion of the choir, and we would also track before and after a sin­gle singing ses­sion. So we’re look­ing at things like how they’re feel­ing that moment. We’re look­ing at some of the bio­log­i­cal effects, so the hor­mones, pain thresh­olds, stress.

Then over the lon­gi­tu­di­nal time frame, we’re look­ing at feel­ings of social con­nect­ed­ness, psy­cho­log­i­cal well-being. One par­tic­u­lar project I can men­tion, we’re gear­ing up to run a study at Chigamik Com­mu­ni­ty Health Cen­ter. So this will be indi­vid­u­als with lung dis­ease, (they) will be pre­scribed from their pri­ma­ry care physi­cian or self-pre­scribed to the choir.

We will be able to doc­u­ment these indi­vid­u­als from day one, when they start their choir, and to see what kind of  effects on their psy­choso­cial well-being, but also on their breath­ing. So we’ll be able to see if the choir is hav­ing an impact on their breath function.

Arla Good: On the ben­e­fits of a SingWell project on music and health

So for this par­tic­u­lar project, we expect to see impact on breath health. We think that ele­ments of singing includ­ing deep breath­ing, con­trolled breath­ing, it’s a way to help strength­en the breath con­trol and the breath health of indi­vid­u­als with lung disease.

So we’re expect­ing to see that, but we’re also expect­ing to see improve­ments in social well-being. What hap­pens when we bring a group of indi­vid­u­als togeth­er who all have lung dis­ease? How does it feel for them all to be singing togeth­er? What is the impact on their iden­ti­ty?  One of the quotes that actu­al­ly trig­gered the inspi­ra­tion for all of SingWell, was an indi­vid­ual liv­ing with Parkin­son’s who start­ed to sing in a choir for Parkin­son’s. She said “I used to be some­one with Parkin­son’s and now I’m some­one with Parkin­son’s who can sing.” So this shift in the iden­ti­ty is what we’re real­ly try­ing to doc­u­ment and this belong­ing in this new com­mu­ni­ty. It’s a strength based com­mu­ni­ty that breaks down stigma.

You might think some­one with a breath­ing dis­or­der would­n’t be able to sing, and yet here they are singing and improv­ing their breath health while they’re at it. So out­comes, we’re inter­est­ed in breath health and psy­choso­cial well-being.

Arla Good: What is your inspi­ra­tion in doing this work with SingWell?

I’m inspired by anec­dotes that I hear and it’s a very com­mon expe­ri­ence to hear peo­ple say that a grand­par­ent with demen­tia or with Parkin­son’s who real­ly came alive when they sang. I hear these sto­ries and I think we all see that hap­pen­ing but I want­ed to under­stand why this is hap­pen­ing, and to begin to doc­u­ment it, and cre­ate resources for peo­ple who want to be doing this kind of work.

So best prac­tices in lead­ing a choir like this, and to help spread the word to com­mu­ni­ties that would ben­e­fit from pro­gram­ming like this.

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