Singing therapy in Croydon


By - Monday 29th February, 2016

Musician and facilitator Katie Rose on how Croydon is exploring the healing power of song


Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Since time began we have used sound to restore our inner and outer harmony. It’s very exciting to see how current Croydon singing projects draw on ancient foundations of musical and medical practice, and to find out more about the exciting work being done in our borough.

Working with Catherine Pestano on Creative Croydon projects, I have been blessed to witness a wonderful diversity of singing at every stage of life, from lullabies with babies and teen mums in Cotelands Pupil Referral Unit to bedside singing in Croydon University hospital for those in later life. It is clear that whilst our cultural or religious identities may differ, the life-enhancing power of singing to bring joy, connection and relief remains constant.

Members of one of our projects, Croydon Carers’ Choir, have described singing as therapeutic, saying that it “takes the mind off problems” and “lifts the spirits”. They may be caring for parents, siblings or children with significant physical, mental and emotional issues and as advocates for their loved ones, face daily negotiations with care agencies, hospitals and medics. They tell me that they appreciate that is “no pressure” about the choir: they can drop in whenever they are able and sessions are designed to be welcoming and accessible, with no need to be able to read music.

When I sing I feel that I can cope better

Learning to sing in harmony brings a “a sense of togetherness, that we’ve achieved something together” and “creates a feeling of joy… we share that joy and when I come out I feel really liberated and that I can cope better”. The group is also very supportive and social: “regularly sharing something great” is very important, along with “the opportunity to meet up with fellow carers over a cuppa, learn how life is treating them and find out all about the activities taking place around town”.

Some members of the carers’ choir participated in the recent Turtle Key Arts Project at Fairfield Halls, for carers and patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. As neurologists including the late, great Oliver Sacks discovered, music stimulates many regions of the brain. Singing is used to help restore language function after stroke and can bring about moments of connection with those who have lost memory through projects such as Singing for the Brain.

These projects draw on deep sources: history reveals the use of music as therapy across creeds and cultures, with resonances that reach us in Croydon today. The Ancient Greek founders of medicine and music, Hippocrates and Pythagoras, made extensive use of music therapy. Plato’s Music of the Spheres has inspired Western philosophers and musicians throughout the centuries to explore the power of music to heal and harmonise.

Modern science is exploring what the ancients understood: music is good for us

Early Arabic hospitals contained music rooms and early Baksi healers in Turkey used the pentatonic scales found to be soothing for individuals with autism by contemporary Nordoff-Robbins music therapists who have a unit at the BRIT School. Turkish Hospitals are now using a system defined by Al Farabi in 872 which uses makams (classical musical styles) for certain conditions. Ancient Sanskrit texts in India likewise prescribe musical forms (ragas) for specific issues. The Yellow Emperor’s foundation text for Chinese medicine attributes a musical tone to each of the five elements, which corresponds to the relationships between the major organs.

Contemporary science is currently burgeoning with research that demonstrates what the ancients understood: singing is good for us. Plato taught that “music and rhythm find their ways into the secret parts of the soul“, and current members of our choirs describe how singing supports mental well-being, helping them feel more positive.

The effects of music on cardiac and respiratory function noted by early Ottoman physicians have been corroborated by clinical research at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals’ Singing for Breathing project and at The Sidney de Haan Centre. Having worked on projects across four London hospitals, I have been deeply moved to hear patients with degenerative lung conditions tell me that singing has changed their lives.

I look forward to seeing more of these life-changing practices come to Croydon

Singing could soon be on prescription, since new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence now recommends that the NHS should provide opportunities for older people to engage in creative group activities such as singing. I look forward to seeing more of these projects reaching Croydon.

Events such as the interfaith singing event, Space for Peace pioneered by June Boyce-Tilman, which came to Croydon Minster in 2013, demonstrate that singing can bring different faith groups together. Singing is used to create meditative states in spiritual practices around the world from Jewish niggun, Sufi Zikr, the Islamic call to prayer, Hindu mantras, Gregorian chant and Gospel songs. And just as soundwaves can be used to help us see an unborn baby, they can help us leave the world peacefully. Singing can reach those in coma, as hearing is often the last sense to leave. Having sung with patients and their families in the final stages of cancer and witnessed the sweet release and connection it created, I am convinced that from birth to death, there is a song to be found on every breath which has the power to uplift, heal and transform us.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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