Upcoming Meetings

More to come— stay tuned!

Past Meetings

Partnership Meeting — July 31, 2018

In person

Dr. Frank Russo, Dr. Kate Dupuis, Romina Oliverio, Dr. Alexandra Fiocco, Paula Wolfson, Fran Copelli, Suzette Janse van Rensburg, Alex Pachete, Dr. Elizabeth Rochon, Sina Fallah, Melanie Santarossa, Arla Good

Via zoom

Dr. Jane Gosine, Julie Wysocki, Dr. Merrill Tanner, Dr. Gurjit Singh, Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes, Ken Dando, Tim Hague, Antje Bullack


  • The purpose of this meeting is to share ideas and to get inspired for our upcoming study tracking the biopsychosocial benefits of group singing in older adults.
  • We are interested in not only the longitudinal benefits of singing (i.e. changes in before and after a semester of choir singing), but also the benefits of just one choir session (i.e. from in the door to out the door), and how this may map onto broader gains.
  • Measures we are interested in tracking include changes in cortisol, oxytocin, pain thresholds (optional), and ratings of how connected choristers feel to their group and the larger community.


Configuration of the room

  • A semi-circle configuration with a path going through allows participants to see each other’s faces during group singing, which facilitates social interaction and connection.
  • Although a row configuration may be ideal for listening, it doesn’t allow for that visual contact.

o In hearing impaired choirs, visual cues may not be as important since participants are focused on listening to the sounds around them. In these cases it’s important for the director to walk about the room and face participants and sing with them.

  • Having strong singers or music students dispersed throughout the group can help participants hear their parts in semi-circle configurations.
  • Activity idea: pick a partner across the room and sing to them throughout a certain song.
  • To allow room for wheelchairs and walkers, there should be a path going through the semi-circle.
  • Depending on the needs of the choir, we may consider providing tables for physical supportfor standing.

Inclusion of friends and family

  • Often family members accompany folks to their events and join in.
  • We thought that it’s important to not turn anyone away, especially since isolation is aproblem associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • At the same time, consistency is important. We may consider asking participants who their family members are so we know who to expect.

Emotional experiences

  • Sometimes emotional issues become uncovered during singing, and choir directors have reported taking on a psychologist role in these situations.
  • It’s important for choir directors to find a balance between being supportive without becoming overburdened.
  • If a participant has an emotional experience, it’s important to follow up. Call them the morning after to make sure things are going alright and to ensure that they have the support they need.
  • We should include fun games/upbeat songs to help change the mood if needed.
  • Having social interaction time with coffee/tea for 30 minutes after the choir gives participants the opportunity to chat in a safe space.

Warm up exercises

  • Starting with a fun activity helps participants get in the right space.
  • E.g. tongue twisters, straw phonation (blow bubbles into water).

Concert performance at the end?

  • Some directors don’t include a performance due to expenses or legal consideration.
  • Some choir members may not be ready to identify as having a disease publicly, and thus maynot want to take part in a performance.
  • Sometimes participants only want to take classes and don’t want to take part in aperformance.
  • At the same time, having a concert gives participants a goal, helps them focus, allows themto learn more efficiently, and gives them something to look forward to.
  • If participants are hesitant, we may consider having a “showcase” or an “open class” instead of a “concert.”

Progression of disease

  • Sometimes choir directors may need to adopt strategies to balance the needs of folks who may be farther along in progression of their disease.
  • We should ensure that participants have access to lyrics with an appropriate font size, and maybe even project the lyrics onto the front if they are unable to hold lyrics themselves.
  • Make sure there are sufficient breaks during class.
  • Sometimes we may have to give participants different tasks if they have difficulties with aparticular song (e.g. tap a tambourine along to the beat).

Overly demanding participants

  • It’s important for choir directors to be assertive in a kind and gentle way.
  • We should solicit feedback in a controlled manner that won’t take over the class.

Differing levels of music experience

  • How can we avoid a situation in which a participant with formal choir experience criticizes another participant with less experience?
  • In general, our current choir directors haven’t experienced this. If there is a strong participant, usually directors assign them another part (e.g. harmony, descant etc.), or even enlist them to sit beside weaker vocalists to help them. In general these strong participants are open to this.

General principles of guiding choir

  • Directors should have pieces prepared before the first meeting (e.g. 2 songs prepared), and may consider providing a PDF or printed sheets for participants to take home.
  • It’s helpful for participants to have a midi file or YouTube link so they can listen to their parts at home and mimic the sounds themselves.
  • Homework: sometimes at home assignments (e.g. pitch matching tasks on an app, basic scales, etc.) are a great way to get participants engaged and learn new concepts that seem advanced but are actually quite enjoyable.
  • Musical notation: learning a bit of notation could help participants navigate the music even if they don’t know specific intervals (e.g. can predict a larger interval coming up and adjust breath support).
  • It’s important to emphasize inclusion and encourage participants to sing whether they’re hitting the right notes or not. In fact, encourage participants to make mistakes! For example, in the better breathing choir, it’s not possible to work on breath support unless you’re singing in the first place.

o If one singer is disrupting the others with loud out-of-pitch singing, maybe we could kindly remind them it’s a group sing, or ask all other members to sing louder.

  • We should encourage memorization of lyrics to facilitate visual contact among participants.
  • If a participant makes a mistake, instead of pointing it out or singling someone out, weshould clearly demonstrate the proper way to sing. Eventually they will pick it up.
  • Directors should make sure that participants are understanding their instructions and clarifydifficult concepts.
  • Directors should give exercises to demonstrate difficult concepts. E.g. if syncopation is difficult, try getting participants to sing a scale on the offbeats! Or if swing rhythms are difficult, play them a tune straight and swung so they can hear the difference between them.

Next steps

  • Continue to develop a research plan.
  • Individual groups will keep in contact.
  • Residents of the GTA are welcome to attend Paula Wolfson’s open choir Thursdays at 1PM atthe Four Seasons at Queen/University.

Partnership Meeting — December 4, 2019

In person

Frank Russo (Ryerson University Principal Research Investigator), Arla Good (Post-doctoral researcher), Alexandria Fiocco (Professor at Ryerson; wellbeing and aging research), Fran Copelli (SingWell project manager, Alex Pachete (Graduate student, researching Newmarket Aphasia choir), Christina Wynans (Speech Language Pathology; directed the Newmarket Aphasia Choir), Kate Dupuis (director for Dementia choir), Sina Fallah (Hearing Aid choir director), Mary Vourakes (50+ Ryerson program manager)

Via zoom

Heitha Forsyth (music therapist, U-Tunes Parkinsonʼs choir director), Lorena Araujo (research program coordinator Parkinsonʼs Canada), Ken Dando (U-Tunes Parkinsonʼs choir organizer), Jane Gosine (Better Breathing Lung Disease Choir Director), Gurjit Singh (Hearing aid and audiology researcher), Ellen Cotton (Newmarket Aphasia choir director, Speech Language Pathology), Gunter Kreutz (Biosocial wellbeing researcher, Oldenburg Lung Disease Choir coordinator), Becky Choma (Professor at Ryerson; social research)

Weʼve tracked multiple singing groups from different age-related populations

●  weʼve also tracked control groups to compare to the singers

●  aiming to update website with specific information for groups living with age-related diseases

○ this will include information from the literature, our own research, and results from the best practices questionnaire

●  preliminary data trends

○  pre measures before activity, do activity, then post measures after activity

○  visited the groups multiple times

○  measures were mood, pain thresholds (using an instrument called the dolorimeter; say ‘stopʼ when it starts feeling uncomfortable), measure of social connectivity questionnaire, cortisol and oxytocin biomarkers

●  trends from the healthy aging 50+ choir at Ryerson

○  pre-post effect on mood does not show up on week 1 but does show up at 7-8 weeks point

○  pain thresholds are increased after 45 minutes of singing

○  pain thresholds are higher when group singing than when they are singing by themselves

○  increases in pre-post for social connectivity in session 1, then a steady incline as group bonding increases over time

◆ ice breaking effect — groups of people bonding very quickly, and these effects accrue over time

● Bread and butter theory

○  singing is butter; it makes social exchanges richer and more socially “nutritive”

○  the bread is the social time after singing; the connection that people share

○  bread is available through support groups, yoga groups, etc. but there is something about singing that is “butter” like to make the socializing a little more appealing

○  the magic in singing may boil down to synchronized movement. though it may be more complicated; i.e. shared emotion

● Cortisol across populations

○  cortisol is associated with stress

○  robust effect of group activity on cortisol. it decreases after the activity, regardless of whether it is group singing, yoga, private singing. etc.● Oxytocin across populations

○  oxytocin hormone associated with social bonding

○  sent out samples for oxytocin analysis for healthy aging group singing vs. private singing, Parkinsonʼs choir vs. yoga

○  the evidence shows that you need to be singing with other people to have an increase in oxytocin

○  in group yoga, you arenʼt focused on other people, itʼs very focused to the internal self

○  group singing however is group oriented

○  when group singing, you are carried along by the group. in yoga, the person next to you isnʼt helping you do that synchronized movement. in a

choir, you are one voice among many.

○  dance may show similar group bonding effects to singing

● Summary

○ pre-post increase in positive mood takes multiple sessions to develop○ see increases in connectedness immediately
○ see decreases in cortisol for all activities
○ seeing increase in oxytocin only for group singing

● Qualitative data

○ Feedback from the choir directors

● Aphasia Choir

◆  has continued beyond our research project

◆  preliminary analysis on some of the measures; increase in pain thresholds

◆  increases in mood

◆  after singing, participants were more comfortable using their voice

◆  perception of living with the disorder becomes more positive

○ Ellen Aphasia Choir

◆ watched aphasia choir and thought that was helpful

◆  maybe include videos online to show instructions

◆  you donʼt need to have all the pieces in place to run the choir

◆ i.e. it doesnʼt have to be perfect, even if there isnʼt a piano accompaniment, there could be karaoke tracks

◆  participants were very enthusiastic about the concert; having something to work towards and having something to show their family as an accomplishment

◆  using some songs to build confidence, some songs as a challenge

● Heitha U-Tunes Parkinson

◆  want the experience to generalize into their every day life, in their speaking

◆  now they have two classes a week

◆  less focus on performance, more interested in maintenance of the voice

● Sina Hearing Aid Choir

◆  actively try to keep the repertoire diverse in terms of genre and tempo

◆  introduce at least one song that no one would have heard before; this acclimatizes to learning new songs and controlling stress levels. everyone is starting from ground zero.

◆  facilitators sing along with the choir members because the singers donʼt have enough confidence

● The Connectedness Project

◆  new project focusing not only on group singing but group drumming, group dancing, group walking, etc. that could yield the same kind of connectedness benefits

◆  doing things in synchrony

◆  feeling connected to something bigger i.e. nature, the world, humanity as a whole

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