Circle of Song Choir

In addition to showcasing their choral excellence in concert, The Elora Singers has embarked on making connections in our local community through outreach and education. In February of 2016, we launched our first Community Initiatives Program – a dementia-focused Choral Therapeutic Project at the Wellington Terrace Long Term Care Home in Elora. Music appears to benefit individuals through the nuanced, yet significant connection between brain, ear and instrument. These links produce a positive effect on all of those involved in the care, management or experience of dementia (Wall & Duffy, 2010). Singing, as one aspect of music, combines language, music and instinctive human behaviour to enhance neurological stimulation (Jeffries, Fritz, & Braun, 2003). Group music interventions may help to improve social interaction between people with dementia, promoting relaxation and reducing levels of agitation (Lin et al., 2011).

This new partnership is focused on enriching the lives of residents coping with dementia through the joy and richness of actively participating in choral singing. The choir is geared for residents with early to mid-stage dementia and their family/friend caregivers and participation in the choir is offered free of charge. An additional benefit of partnership with a long-term care facility is the consistency of staff and access to full time professional personal care-workers.

• The first of its kind in the world to be paired with a fully-professional choir modeled on the success of the Singing for the Brain program developed in England
• Providing a friendly social setting for the creative expression of the residents and their family/friend caregivers
• Enriching, hour-long sessions, Thursdays 3:30pm – 4:30pm, involving physical, vocal and cognitive exercises, transitioning into therapeutic group singing

Due to the success of Circle of Song in Elora, TES is actively pursuing new opportunities in nearby communities, to facilitate the implementation of this therapeutic dementia program. In order to better accomplish this goal we are now seeking funding partnerships in both the public and private sectors, specifically in support of Circle of Song.

In my capacity as the founding director of the Wellington Terrace’s “Circle of Song” Choir, which has been running weekly, for the most part, since March of 2016, I have been privileged to observe quite often something which I can only regard as transformational: participants enjoy singing familiar songs, in good company; there is an awareness that is apparent even in residents who are largely incapacitated (e.g. tapping fingers or toes in rhythm, singing the lyrics and smiling), indicating that there is, in that moment at least, a positive experience being shared by the act of making music together.

On a given day, one person in the circle may be unresponsive, until we begin a favourite song; then there would be a look of recognition as that person would begin to sing along. Another individual may have difficulty following a conversation or reading words on a page, but would then be very much engaged in singing a familiar melody, with or without lyrics. Most would take part in various physical and vocal warm-up exercises, and almost all would participate enthusiastically in our weekly “welcome song,” as we go around the circle greeting one another by name. Some members of the group even improvise harmonies for some of the songs, drawing on past memories of choral practice, and in so doing, engaging in a creative process.

In summary, I feel that there is rich potential here to develop a greater understanding of the benefits of singing within a group, as it relates to individuals on not only a physical or cognitive level, but also emotionally, relationally and spiritually. There is an opportunity, as well, for individuals from the wider community to form and grow relationships with residents, within the context of shared music-making. Most importantly, there is actual enhancement of the daily lives of people who, though they may have lost a great deal of themselves through cognitive impairments such as dementia, can still reach out – and be reached – through the act of singing together.

Christopher Fischer, MM
Director, Circle of Song Choir
Wellington Terrace Long-Term Care Home

The Circle of Song Choir is generously supported by The Township of Centre Wellington:

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