[spacer height="20px"]Spurred by a love of music and a drive to help others, McMaster second year arts and science student Zach Levine has created a choir for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease in Hamilton.

The Hamilton Parkinson’s Chorus, which started in September and meets once a week on campus, is open to any in the Parkinson’s community and is free of charge.

When asked how the idea for a choir began, Levine, the founder and director, said he simply saw a need in the community and was particularly inspired by volunteering over the summer with Singing With Parkinson’s, a choir in Toronto where he saw how much good a choir like this could bring.

“I realized there was not already a choir in Hamilton,” said Levine. “I thought, I have been singing in a choir for about 11 years and music is something I have always used to improve my mood anyway. And because there is such a direct connection between music and people with Parkinson’s and improvement in vocal speech production, I figured this was an area I could help the Hamilton community.”

For assistant director Liam Cresswell, there is a personal connection to Parkinson’s. Over the summer, a mother of a close friend was diagnosed with the disease.

“This is an initiative that is very close to my heart, and is my own way of supporting her,” Cresswell said.

According to Levine, the benefits of a choir for people with Parkinson’s is also backed by scientific research. After he came up with the idea, Levine began looking very closely into Parkinson’s disease and the science behind music and its effects on the particular condition.

“I went into the McMaster library and probably read almost everything there was about group singing and Parkinson’s and music therapy for Parkinson’s,” said Levine.

Levine’s look into Parkinson’s disease has helped him better understand how to run such a choir and make it enjoyable and even beneficial to their condition.

“We have modeled our rehearsals and the exercises we do in rehearsals based on the exercises shown in research to have benefit,” Levine said. “The idea is to build a community based on well-established research.”

The choir began as a simple idea but required a great deal of work and collaboration. Levine and Cresswell put up posters at Hamilton hospitals and visited them to recruit members. They also worked with arts and science program director Jean Wilson and school of the arts professor Dr. Andrew Mitchell for logistical support, including the search for an accessible rehearsal space.

Levine has also been working closely with Parkinson’s Canada, meeting weekly to discuss the initiative.

While a choir is typically centered around rehearsing and performing music, the purpose of this choir is much more than that. According to Levine, it is about building a community, raising awareness about the disease and having some fun while doing so.

“We are not really concerned about how we sound. It is more about making sound and sharing the experience of singing with others,” said Levine.

Levine and Cresswell have already received positive feedback from the participants. In the future, the choir may hold concerts and other joint fundraising events with other choirs. For now, however, Levine is still looking to recruit members and simply focus on ensuring an enjoyable experience for the members.

The group meets in Togo Salmon Hall room 118 every Wednesday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. More information on the choir can be found online at www.parkinsonschorus.ca.

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