THE first choir for stroke survivors in Wales has been shortlisted for a 2016 Epic Award.
Strike a Chord is a Stroke Association project that helps stroke survivors regain confidence and strengthen their voices through song.
The awards celebrate voluntary arts groups across the UK by recognising the hard work and innovation that goes into community activities.
The choir is dominating the People’s Choice Award category and was the first group to receive 1,000 votes.
The Stroke Association joined with Head4Arts, a community arts organisation in Wales, and the Arts Council of Wales to fund the project. Head4Arts has achieved previous success with choirs for people with dementia, mental health problems, and terminal illness.
However, Strike a Chord faces an uncertain future because the Arts Council of Wales has announced it will be introducing cuts by June. The choir hopes that success at the Epic Awards will result in a secure financial future.
Strike a Chord formed in 2014 and meets in Cwmbran every Thursday. The group, led by Welsh soprano Ali Shone, started with only five singers. Now there are more than 30 singers, all of whom are either stroke survivors or their close family, carers or friends.
Lucy Thomas, Community Development and Partnership manager with the Stroke Association said: “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the response the choir has had after being shortlisted for this year’s Epic Awards.
“They came together less than two years ago but now have 30 members, several of whom are now confidently singing solos. This is particularly amazing when you consider that several members of the choir have issues with their speech following stroke.”
Barry resident Ali Shone took over the choir in October 2014. Ali is an accomplished Welsh soprano singer and has completed studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
She has performed with the likes of Kathryn Jenkins, Bryn Terfel and Rod Stewart and now has a thriving teaching business in South Wales.
Ali jumped at the opportunity to lead Strike a Chord and has described its work as “therapy in its finest context – through music”.
She said: “When I started it was a task just getting people to sing along. But now I’m teaching about breathing control and vocal placement.
“As their speech is improving, their confidence is growing massively.
“I’m just there to teach them the music. It’s very much their choir. Whatever they want to sing, we sing. In fact, we sing everything from Welsh hymns to 60s pop.”
But the choir does come with its complications. A lot of the stroke survivors have difficulty reading and many of them struggle to hold sheet music because of damaged limb control.
“We can’t learn anything too wordy because a lot of the members have difficulty reading. So we sing slow, cheerful songs like Bring Me Sunshine and Yellow Submarine,” said Ali.
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Scientists have proven that singing can help in the rehabilitation of stroke survivors. Singing uses a different area of the brain from the area involved in speech and can be an effective way for stroke survivors to communicate.
Many members of Strike a Chord have grown in confidence and happiness since joining the choir. Vanessa Morley from Cwmbran had a stroke on Christmas Eve nine years ago that stopped her from working and caused various health issues.
She joined the choir because she wanted to sing, “but I knew my voice was not good enough because it was croaky and horrible after my stroke.
“After Ali’s teaching, I can now reach quite high notes and I love it.
“Strike a Chord gives me something to do and something to look forward to. I was devastated when I couldn’t work any longer.
“It makes me feel wonderful. When I’m with the choir, I feel great in myself. Ali is the best teacher going.”
Vanessa’s biggest break-through came last Christmas, when she finally managed to whistle for the first time since her stroke nine years ago.
“I could not whistle for nine years. I used to love whistling along to songs in the house but I could not do it after my stroke.”
The choir is rich in similar tales of achievement. Members that were shy and embarrassed upon first joining are now confidently singing solos in concerts.
Ali’s ultimate aim is for Strike a Chord to sing the national anthem on the pitch at the Millennium Stadium. She said: “They sing the national anthem phenomenally well – their passion and power is amazing.”
It is this passion that has seen Strike a Chord achieve such popularity ahead of the 2016 Epic Awards. The closing date for nominations is March 23 at 5pm.
- For more information about the Strike a Chord choir or the Stroke Association’s work in Wales, click here.