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SongShine: Gaining Vocal Strength Through the Power of Music

Music is an integral part of our human experience. Our brains have processed and learned from the natural musical tones and rhythms around us—nature’s music—for as long as man has walked on this earth.

Wayne Curtis

Wayne Curtis sings to a packed house in the 2012 SongShine Celebration featuring music from The Sound of Music.

Believing that music is life-giving and that humans are hard-wired to benefit from it, SongShine, a music-based speech and voice therapy program, was launched in 2006 as a pilot study at Eisenhower Medical Center for the Traub Parkinson’s Center. SongShine’s founder, Ruthanna Metzger, recognized that music, especially singing, was scoring high marks with neuroscientists and neurologists because of a process known as neuroplasticity, which helps rewire the brain.

“The organizational aspects of speech are in the brain’s left hemisphere, which often ceases to send clear speech signals when damaged by disease or trauma,” states Metzgar, “detail, volume, and pace of speech become compromised.” Music, however, is distributed throughout many areas of the brain. Musical therapies like SongShine can help the brain “switch channels,” finding alternate pathways for better speech function.

According to Dr. Neil Hermanowicz, neurologist at the Traub Center, a study of music therapy as a form of treatment for Parkinson’s disease was published in 2000 by Claudio Pacchetti, MD and his colleagues at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Centre in Italy. Researchers found that music therapy, including “choral singing, voice exercise, rhythmic and free body movements, and active music involving collective invention” produced measurable improvements in the participants’ mobility, happiness, and overall sense of quality of life.

Geoffrey Webb

Geoffrey Webb sings “Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City,” from SongShine’s Celebration Concert featuring music from Oklahoma.

SongShine offers an opportunity for people to improve both their speaking and singing skills in an atmosphere that lifts spirits, touches hearts, releases memories and creates a strong sense of community. Wayne Curtis, PhD, of Palm Springs, says the program brought him back to life. He developed Parkinson’s in the thirty-fifth year of his career as a Clinical Psychologist. He had been a soloist since his teens, starring in high school musicals and working his way through college and graduate school singing at the professional level. “I always dreamed that when I retired, I would have nothing to interfere with my singing,” said Curtis. But the closer he got to retirement age, the more he began to notice the early symptoms of the disease: the expressionless face, the tremors, the rigidity, and the lack of enunciation in speech. “I was embarrassed and ashamed, so I occupied myself with hobbies that did not require public appearances. I had decided I would never sing again.”

After five years, Curtis heard about SongShine’s success in helping people with strokes and Parkinson’s rediscover their voices. He decided to give it a try. “The minute I walked into the room, I knew I had found something special. The atmosphere generated by the director, teachers, and other participants that made me feel I had come home.”  Since joining the class, Wayne has made a CD entitled I’m Still Me (in spite of PD) and makes guest solo appearances throughout the Valley.

Geoffrey Webb of Palm Springs, agrees, “I am eighty-one years young and have spent most of my life working in the theater. For the past six years I have done very little and with the onset of Parkinson’s, my voice has suffered greatly. By attending SongShine, my voice has regained clarity and volume. Not only is the class beneficial for my voice, it is food for my soul.”

SongShine takes place at Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church on Hwy 74. Prior singing experience is not required and all are welcome.

Classes begin November 5, 1-2:30pm. For more information or to register online visit www.SongShineforParkinsons.org or call the SongShine Foundation office at 425-210-3612. SongShine Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity. 

6 Responses to “SongShine: Gaining Vocal Strength Through the Power of Music”

  1. Marcel Jeffrey DeBeck says:

    It was exciting to see the article in the November/ December newsletter of Senior Health and to see my friend Ruth Smith in the Anatevka song in The Fiddler. I also noted the kids working with the Seniors. Ruthanna I believe your on the right track. When are you doing Music Man?. I sing also and love to attend live shows especially when people have worked so hard to produce them. Currently I’m enrolled in COD’s Broadway Voice class and would love to hear more about that show. Sincerely, Jeff.

  2. Ruthanna Metzgar says:

    Dear Jeff,
    Thank you for your thoughtfulness in sending us the note of affirmation.
    Come by and visit us. Our Basic SongShine class is from 12-1 on Mondays. Singers and Players meets on Mondays from 1:30-3:00. Music Man will be performed on April 1 at 2 PM at Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church, 47-321 Highway 74.
    Blessings,
    Ruthanna Metzgar, President
    SongShine Foundation

  3. harry herz says:

    are you going to start a basic class in, or around, sun city, anytime soon?

    • Ruthanna Metzgar says:

      We have been hoping to make the right contacts and get a core of interested people so we can offer the SongShine Basics course in Sun City. Would also love to train some teachers for that group. Our hope is that by November we will have something up and running. In the meantime there will be a 5 week class called Summer SongShine offered in late June and early July in Palm Desert, but not in Sun City…yet.
      Check out our website for coming classes.
      http://www.SongShineforParkinsons.org
      Blessings,
      Ruthanna

  4. Glen Brookman says:

    Dear Ruthanna,
    I grew up with Bob Baker and he mentioned you, as my wife has Parkinson’s and we belong to a support group meeting at EV Free Church in Fullerton, CA and I wondered if you ever did performances in our area or if you might have suggestions for special speakers that may want to attend one of our meetings to educate us more or share their expertise on the disease. I am not the leader of our group but I am sure they would appreciate any advise you may have. Thank you in advance.
    Glen Brookman

  5. Ruthanna Metzgar says:

    Dear Glen,
    It would be a pleasure to come and speak to your support group. Our program works with voices compromised by Parkinson’s, essential tremor, stroke, other neurological disorders and voices affected by aging. Perhaps my interactive lecture could be open to all seniors who are interested in the EV Free congregation as well.

    Here is our website:
    http://www.songshineforparkinsons.org and here is my email: ruthanna@songshineforparkinsons.org.

    I look forward to hearing from you and being contacted by your facilitator.
    Blessings,
    Dr. Ruthanna Metzgar, President
    SongShine Foundation

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