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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.Read More +