Christmas is a busy time of year for any choir, no more so than for Tauranga's 'Brainwave Singers'.

This group of singers was founded by Speech and Language Therapist Robin Matthews, who uses music to improve communication in stroke sufferers and to help those battling with neurological conditions like Parkinson's Disease.

"I think the size of the choir contributes to the success in that no one feels isolated or exposed, no one is setup to fail. They are all part of this one, big unit."

The choir began seven years ago and has proved a hit with audiences.


"They're not always entirely certain what a choir of people with a neurological condition would sound like, so they go with a bit of anticipation," said Matthews. "Of course, they very quickly realise that this is a choir like any other, they sing exceptionally well and very loudly."

At the start of each session, Matthews takes the choir through a series of warm-ups.

"Just giving the vocal cords a jolly good work-out, so that when we start the singing process with that high intensity, they are already warmed up and ready to go."

Former High School Teacher Dave Sales found out 11 years ago that he had early-onset Parkinson's.

"I just didn't want to know. I didn't want to go for treatment, I didn't want to go to any groups, join any choir, do any exercise. Leave me alone, thank you very much, that was my initial response."

But Sales said since joining the group, he's gained a newfound sense of camaraderie with his choirmates.

"Some people think they aren't singers, so there is no point coming," Sales said. "In actual fact, they can certainly contribute and become a part of the whole. You can hear how good the sound is that the choir produces, from a mixed bunch of people."

Rob Meharry also has Parkinson's. He says he owes his voice to the Brainwave Singers.

"One of the first things to go was my voice. I used to sing a lot, I was blessed with a reasonably good voice, and it just disappeared on me. I couldn't sing a note," he said.

"Coming here to Brainwave Singers, with the exercise and the singing, I have been able to regain my singing voice - not as it used to be, but at least it's working."

The group meets each week, with the benefits felt by both choir members and choir master.

"I come away usually feeling very elated, a lovely uplift in my life every Wednesday. It really is just the highlight of the week."

Matthews is so convinced of the healing power of music, he's now conducting research into the benefits of singing for stroke and Parkinson's sufferers.

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