SINGING can be more than just an artistic pleasure - a self-help group that set up a new branch in Ledbury earlier this year is proving that it has unexpected health benefits.
The group is Quivers and Quavers, and it was set up several years ago by former RAF man Michael Canavan, who lives in Fownhope, after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
Parkinson's Disease, a neurological disorder, frequently affects people's ability to communicate through speech.
And it was while undergoing speech therapy that Mr Canavan had the inspiration that led to the formation of Quivers and Quavers, or Q2 as it is informally known.
He said: "People with Parkinsons have a more than 80 per cent chance of developing communications problems. One-on-one speech therapy is expensive, costing over £70 an hour, so we wanted to find something that would provide the benefits of speech therapy but which could be applied on a group basis.
"It occurred to me that there were similarities between speech therapy and singing lessons, and I though this was something that we should try out.
Mr Canavan and his wife Janet set to work with Parkinson’s specialist nurse Caroline Evans and Ruth Proctor, speech and language therapist for Hereford Primary Care Trust.
They approached the Music Pool, operating out of the Courtyard in Hereford, which coordinates local music resources. Here, they were pointed to opera singer and teacher Roger Langford, who signed up, and Q2 was born.
The group has been meeting at the Hinton Community Centre in Hereford since 2006, and in January this year, a Ledbury group started up, meeting at Leadon Bank, and led by John Frith, a multi-talented horn player, singer, composer and teacher.
A typical Q2 session will involve posture and breathing exercises, followed by various singing and chanting practice. A break after 50 minutes for tea and biscuits is a vital part of the session, which is then followed by a period devoted to singing complete songs.
And the consensus is that Q2 is a success. Mr Canavan, Mr Langford, Mrs Evans and Mrs Proctor have just published an academic paper via the University of Kent, entitled Group Singing as a form of Speech Therapy for People with Parkinson’s, on its first few years.
Participants have been monitored since Q2 stated, and regularly tested using clinically-approved tests, and to quote the paper: "It was expected that singing would provide benefit to all four main parameters of speech: respiration, phonation, movement of facial musculature and articulation.
"It was also possible that the group sessions would provide support and an element of fun and thereby improve quality of life. This was measured using the validated PDQ39 measure of quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.
"There were small but statistically significant improvements in the laryngeal elements of the Frenchay Dysarthria Score over the two years. These results warrant the further investigation of a more rigorous research project."
But the benefits are much more than just academic. Mr Canavan said: "It has an important social role because people with Parkinson's find themselves becoming socially isolated because of their condition.
"After Q2 sessions, they are re-heartened and resocialised," said Mr Canavan. "It enables them to keep their place in society."
Mr Canavan is optimistic about the future of Q2, which he would like to see grow, both geographically and by turning its attention to people with other conditions, such as people with breathing problems, multiple sclerosis or the aftereffects of mild strokes.
To find out more about Quivers and Quavers, including when and where the sessions are held, visit herefordshireq2.btck.co.uk.