Voices in Harmony: Singing groups for adults with acquired neurogenic communication difficulties

Posted by on 20 February 2023

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Summary of Research - December 2022

by Alison Talmage, University of Auckland

20 Talmage PhotoThank you for awarding me a HOPE Foundation Scholarship this year, for the second time. This generous funding has supported an important stage of my part-time PhD research at the University of Auckland School of Music and Centre for Brain Research.

My research focuses on neurological choirs – therapeutic singing groups for adults with communication difficulties resulting from an acquired neurological condition. My main motivation for this study is the enthusiasm of members of the CeleBRation Choir (1) and Sing Up Rodney (2) and their wish for increased service provision for people experiencing similar challenges.

I have made good progress with my action research study this year – an approach that involves sequential cycles of investigation. This year’s main task has been to evaluate a draft handbook for neurological choirs that I developed last year. I have worked on four research cycles:

  • Cycle 4: refining the handbook by further analysing my own practice;
  • Cycle 5: analysing late 2021 group recordings and follow-up interview with another music therapist who tested the handbook;
  • Cycle 6: holding focus groups discussions with NZ and international music therapists and
    speech-language therapists who facilitate similar choirs; and
  • Initial planning for Cycle 7: early in 2023 I will submit an ethics application to interview CeleBRation Choir and Sing Up Rodney participants about their experiences in these groups.

Choir participants already contribute  to dissemination and advocacy by performing in the community and sharing their stories in the media. One CeleBRation Choir member, Roger Hicks, recently published an article in “The Big Idea” – “How Music Can Change a Life”. (3)

As part of my earlier qualitative document analysis of the CeleBRation Choir’s history, I have co-authored an article, published in April 2022 in the NZ Journal of Music Therapy. (4) My colleagues are two speech pathologists from Australia and the USA. Together we form the leadership team of an international online community of practice, Aphasia Choirs Go Global, (5) an international online community of practice. I am also the lead author of this group’s collaborative poster presentation, recently accepted for the 2023 World Congress of Music Therapy in Vancouver.

In November I presented a poster (6) at the NZ Association of Gerontology Auckland/Northland Conference, discussing several songwriting projects with the CeleBRation Choir. Songwriting has increased in importance during the pandemic, enabling participants to share their stories, experiences, emotions, and coping strategies. Other opportunities for dissemination of practice and research in progress have included an RNZ National interview with Karyn Hay (7) and an invitation to write an article for the UK-based Singing for Health network. (8)

I am on target to complete and submit my thesis in May 2024. Thank you once again for your support.

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