My [Parkinson’s] Life.
Singing Away The Parkinson’s Blues. By Martin Pryor.
It was an awkward moment.
My physio had just asked me to cross my arms across my chest. In doing so, my right hand started to shake rapidly. We looked at each other and simultaneously said, “What’s that about?”
A week later, I was in the neurologist’s office and after a surprisingly brief but utterly thorough observation and examination, he sat me down and declared I had Parkinson’s.
Like most people receiving an adverse diagnosis, my reaction was one of shock, bewilderment and fear of the unknown. Telling the family was particularly hard but their strong positivity, and that of close friends, got me through those difficult initial days.
Then I got angry. Not in a complaining, “Why me?” sort of way, but more like “Bugger it, there is so much still left to do”.
In a moment of frustration, I picked up my old guitar. I settled into a lazy 12 bar blues because it was easy, and I was well out of practice. Some words formed in my head and The Parkinson’s Blues emerged out of my frustrations and helplessness.
My wife and I had already decided to throw a big ‘That’s Life’ party and thanks to the forbearance of the band Blame Sally, I was able to debut the song to about 100 people. It went down a treat.
When people who had no inkling of my musical background, commented that it was a brave thing to do, I began to understand the change music was having upon me.
It wasn’t bravery but rather, just my way of coping with what had happened to me and to my family. I realised it all came down to mindset.
Some weeks later, as I was leaving a choir rehearsal, one of the members was sitting on the steps looking glum. On hearing his story of marital failure and general depression, with it being so late, I offered to take him for coffee the next morning.
Driving home, stopped by a red light, the phrase ‘men who care’ popped into my head and I wrote it down. The next morning, I put that title at the top of a piece of paper and without prompting, the song just emerged – all verses and choruses, yet to be changed to this day. I conjured up a little riff on the guitar and every chord fell into place.
I recorded it into my phone and that evening played it to my wife. She loved it and urged me to take it further. I recorded the song (and many more), produced two CDs and before long, there I was – a singer-songwriter.
By now hugely motivated, I became a founding member of a male choir and wrote a choral arrangement of the song for us to perform, which we have proudly done in concert.
There is an increasing body of research supporting the view that for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia and conditions of a similar ilk, music is a remarkable therapy.
I am astonished at the positives music has brought my life. I sometimes startle people who ask about my condition when I respond that, “The best thing about having Parkinson’s is the music”
I admit I had no idea as to how valuable singing in a group, in a choir or even solo, would become to my life; how positive it makes me feel and how uplifting it can be.
Whether it’s the cardiovascular benefit of singing for two hours, breathing deeply and getting all those endorphins going, the community spirit or just the fact that you have a goal to work towards and when you get it right it’s a wonderful feeling.
Whether you have just been diagnosed or you are a long-time sufferer, even if you’ve never sung in your life, I urge you to try singing.
Should you be reticent to sing with others the innovative Couch Choir allows you to participate electronically whereby you can sing alone at home, video yourself and then submit it online. If singing is beyond you, listen to music.
Getting that diagnosis four years ago was the most confronting thing I have ever faced but knowing I have the joy and solace of singing and playing guitar to soothe me during the toughest times is a great comfort. I can’t imagine my life without music.