Hope Through Harmony


The Tremble Clefs, sponsored by NPF, employ music as therapy for Parkinson's disease. Read the full story from The San Clemente Times below.

Hope Through Harmony

Bob Barry, a Project Manager at Volt Engineering, reeled into depression when he was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease nine years ago. Although he has a successful career and a loving family, he became angry at God and full of self-pity. He lost his ability to run and even walking became difficult. Eventually his right arm began to shake, and his voice became softer.

After four years of asking, “Why me?” Barry discovered that the choice before him was to either sit and wallow in his grief and discomfort, or throw himself against it. He decided the latter, with gusto.

Barry joined the Tremble Clefs, one of only a few such singing programs in the nation, and while experts agree singing is physically and cognitively beneficial to those with Parkinson’s, Barry also found a great hobby, made lasting friendships and developed a new attitude toward life.

Barry first heard the Tremble Clefs while attending a Parkinson’s support group at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. He thought it looked like fun.

Whether a confident or closet singer, breaking into song has more benefits than meets the ear. Aside from boosting your mood and confidence, music is clinically proven to reduce your brain’s perception of pain, reduce blood pressure, is extremely effective in memory recall and can regulate heart and respiratory rates, according to the Center for Music Therapy in Texas.

The Tremble Clefs, sponsored by the National Parkinson Foundation, employ music as therapy.

Music therapy is a “tool of great power...because of its unique capacity to organize or reorganize cerebral function when it has been damaged,” said Professor of Neurology Oliver Sacks. Music therapy helps patients cognitively, and physically by using their voices and moving their bodies. New research shows that exercise, social stimulation and singing can help postpone Parkinson symptoms even more effectively than early diagnosis and medication.

Less than a dozen Tremble Clefs groups exist in the nation, with one in Orange County, free to those with Parkinson’s. After he saw the performance four years ago, Barry joined.

Approximately 40 people with Parkinson’s and their caretakers journey to the Florence Sylvester Senior Center in Laguna Hills every Monday morning to sing. The meetings are directed by Bonnie Teder, a certified music therapist and Karen Skipper, a certified Voice Therapist. Teder plays the piano while Skipper conducts, and everyone sings.

Every three months Tremble Clefs puts on a concert. This time the theme is “Life Songs” so songs at a recent practice included Morning Has Broken, an old hymn (made famous by Cat Stevens), and Help from my Friends by the Beatles. Barry even has a rap solo during We Will Rock You by Queen.

Jim Feeney, diagnosed with Parkinson’s for 11 years, said if he doesn’t come to practice he can see the negative consequences, but if he does come his voice feels stronger both directly after practice and all through the week.

Bob Sickler from Laguna Woods said the stretching, yawning, and voice exercises absolutely help.

Meeting and practicing with the Tremble Clefs turned Barry’s attitude around. He saw people who could barely speak having a great time singing as loudly as they could. He saw people in more advanced stages of Parkinson’s who were just glad to be there, and he decided not to feel sorry for himself, but to be grateful for all that he did have.

“I didn’t know I had a voice until I thought I might lose it,” Barry said. Now he sings all the time—in his car, at Tremble Clefs and even in the newest group he’s joined, the Beach Cities Harmonizers.

After Barry had been with the Tremble Clefs for three years, Karen Skipper—who helps out at Tremble Clefs—told Barry her husband was part of the Beach City Harmonizers barbershop-style chorus and quartet, and she thought that he should join. Barry joined the San Clemente chapter of the Harmonizers about a year ago.

Not only has Barry thrived singing with the Tremble Clefs and Harmonizers, but he made friends and gained confidence while he was at it. He continues to golf, fish and dress as Santa Claus at Christmas. He walks, drives, and spends time with friends and family. In a poem he wrote last year, Barry tells his perspective:

“Someday my whole body will shake and I cannot stop it, but not today…Someday my voice will be barely audible, but not today…Today I will sing songs with my friends loud and clear, because I can…Today I will play golf with anybody that wants to, because I can…Today I will do everything with passion and excitement, because I can today.”

For more information on the Tremble Clefs call director Bonnie Teder at 949. 458.7042.

The Beach Cities Harmonizers

Fun and talented, old and young, tenors and bass—Beach Cities Harmonizers brings the best of all worlds when it comes to singing. This barbershop-style singing chorus is made up of men from the Beach Cities area. Fifteen to 20 men ages 25 to 93 come together every Monday evening at the San Clemente Presbyterian Church to practice and sing, having fun while they’re at it.

“We just love singing,” said John McCallum, conductor of the Harmonizers. McCallum comes to the meetings after a full day of work and commuting.

Two individual quartets have formed from the chorus. One is called “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) and the other is called “Harmony Partners.” The quartets often do their own gigs, but the chorus comes together for group concerts every couple months.

Some of their newest recruits include Bob Barry from San Juan Capistrano and Bob Sickler from Laguna Woods. Barry and Sickler also sing for the Tremble Clefs, a singing group for those with Parkinson’s, where they heard of the Beach Cities Harmonizers. Barry joined the Harmonizers about a year ago, and Sickler joined just three months ago. Both say that they are very much enjoying the camaraderie and challenge of a professional group.

Beach Cities Harmonizers sing for schools, retirement homes and Rotary Clubs, where they have often raised much money for educational causes. “It’s our way of giving back,” says Warren Willard, former chapter president.

With Barry and Sickler now in the group, Beach Cities Harmonizers has decided to team up with Tremble Clefs and give a Parkinson’s awareness concert on November 20. “Shake, Rattle, and Sing” will feature the Tremble Clefs as well as the Beach Cities Harmonizers and both quartets.

Beach Cities Harmonizers meets every Monday at 6:45 p.m. at San Clemente Presbyterian Church. www.beachcitiesharmonizers.com

-- Kirsten Amavisca

Copyright © 2010 The San Clemente Times