A San Diego choir for people with Parkinson’s gathers online for singing and support
Music director Matt Ignacio (far left) and members of Tremble Clefs San Diego, a singing group for people with Parkinson’s disease
and their care partners. Because of the coronavirus, the members are now rehearsing and socializing online.
APRIL 23, 2020 How the members of Tremble Clefs San Diego keep their Parkinson’s therapeutic singing group together and humming By KARLA PETERSON, COLUMNIST ---
Before they tackled the soulful verses of “Lean on Me” and navigated the snappy chorus of “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” the singers filled their new rehearsal space with the most important vocal warm-up of the day. It went something like this:
Hi! Hello! How’s your knee? Got your coffee? Good to see you! You, too! You look great! So do you!
Greetings from a recent Zoom rehearsal for members of the Central San Diego, North Coastal and North Inland branches of Tremble Clefs San Diego, where cyberspace was alive with the sound of friendship.
Formed in 2001, Tremble Clefs San Diego is a therapeutic singing group for people with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers. In pre-coronavirus times, each of the three San Diego County branches met for weekly in-person rehearsals. There are nearly 100 members total, and many of them gathered regularly to perform for audiences at schools, senior centers, retirement homes and memory care centers.
Under the leadership of music director Matt Ignacio, the Clefs have sung the National Anthem for the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego’s annual Step-by-Step 5K at Liberty Station, and they also put on a yearly “Family, Friends and Community Concert” every July.
But they are not gathering for anything right now.
On March 31, in accordance with California’s stay-at-home orders, Ignacio began offering two virtual Tremble Clefs San Diego rehearsals a week on the Zoom video-conferencing platform. The two-hour rehearsals include one hour or so of stretching, vocal warm-ups and singing, followed by an hour or so of socializing.
The gentle physical and vocal workouts help with posture and breathing, two things that can be challenging for people with Parkinson’s. The socializing helps everyone with everything. Including the director himself.
“There was a little bit of worry and sadness about not being able to meet in person. For a lot of our members, the rehearsals might be the only time they venture out to see friends, and the group becomes kind of a family for them,” said Ignacio, who has been the group’s director since 2016.
“Now that we’re not gathering in person, these online meetings have been really great. For me, it is just like having a big phone call with friends again. It helps you feel like you are part of a community.”
Tremble Clefs San Diego is part of the network of Tremble Clefs groups that grew out of a Parkinson’s support group meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., more than 25 years ago. Speech therapist Karen Hesley had come to the meeting to talk about the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment, a technique to help people with Parkinson’s improve their speech and voice function.
A small group of people stayed after the meeting to talk about how singing might also improve their lives, and the first Tremble Clefs group was born. Hesley became the president and founder, and that group of five singers grew into an organization with more than 500 singers and multiple branches in Arizona, Northern and Southern California, Massachusetts, Missouri and Washington.
The Tremble Clefs San Diego became an independent nonprofit organization in 2016, but the spirit of the original group remains. It is still about the therapeutic benefits of better posture, improved breath control and moving to music. Not to mention the life-affirming power of friendship and emotional support.
Even if the participants can’t be in the same room at the same time for the time being.
“We miss each other. We haven’t seen each other in awhile, so this (Zoom rehearsal) is awesome,” said Lisa Acevedo, a member of the Central San Diego group. “I feel like everyone in Tremble Clefs has a special spirit. The exercise is more important than medicine. When I’m doing this, I forget about everything else.”
With Ignacio directing and Jerrica Stone accompanying them on piano, the 20-plus attendees filled their virtual rehearsal room with hand claps (for “Lean on Me”), some nifty harmonies (for “Happy Together”) and the kind of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” energy that has inspired audiences at Veterans Village of San Diego to break out in conga lines.
From their individual kitchens, living rooms and home offices, the members of Tremble Clefs San Diego were lifting their voices in song, and the songs were carrying them off to their happy place. Separately, but very much together. Still.
“I really believe in positive thinking, especially right now when everyone is trying to keep their spirits up,” said Maureen Ceccarelli, who is also a member of the Central San Diego group. “I came to a rehearsal yesterday, and I came today. I just can’t get enough of singing.”
Read article online at San Diego Union-Tribune >>HERE.