Virtuoso violinist Jote Osahn blogs about Stroke Choir: Part of ‘Stroke: Stories of the Self Through Art & Science’, a collaborative research project with Manchester University and The Stroke Association.
You feel perfectly normal but something is very wrong. The look on your friends confirms this as you try to talk but your words don’t make any sense. The left side of your mouth has dropped and you can’t lift your left arm….you are having a stroke. This happened to my dad four years ago and was one of the scariest moments of my life. Since then I have been very interested in rehabilitation after stroke and the emotional effect of losing a part of yourself as a person after such a momentous life event.
The scary thing is stroke can happen to anyone at any time at any age – and how it affects you is as individual as you are. This was immediately apparent from the first meeting of the Stroke Choir, a brilliant six-week workshop forming part of a wider collaborative research project between Manchester University and The Stroke Association.
The research project is looking at how creative interactions can support the loss of sense of self and social identity often felt to be the biggest emotional challenge by survivors of stroke, and through my continuing journey with my dad, I certainly agree that this is the case. The project has a core group of stroke survivors who have been taking part in a series of interactive workshops over the past year covering photography, visual arts, creative writing and music.
Brighter Sound was asked to deliver the music part of the project and I was delighted to be assistant to the workshop leader, John Blaylock. John has masses of experience in working with survivors of trauma, and is currently leading music projects at Christies Hospital.
We had 13 people attend the sessions, all of varying ages, professions and musical abilities. They were a brilliant bunch of people, who amazed me with their humour, strength, courage and determination not to let their strokes define them as people. There were a couple of musicians in the group, both suffering lack of confidence in their post stroke abilities (I totally understood how they felt, considering the high demands we musicians put on ourselves). There were also people who had never tried anything musical in their lives, as well as a fair number who were already members of the North West Community Stroke Choir
We decided as a group that we would learn a few cover songs and also write a couple of songs ourselves. The six weeks flew by as we went through the process of becoming a choir: vocal technique and warm ups, song writing techniques, a bit of ukulele playing (!) and finally writing our own songs, one about the mental adjustment to the massive change in lifestyle they had all gone through, and another looking at the positive aspects of their new lives and hope for the future.
All of the group were wholeheartedly up for learning something new (or re-learning as in the case of the musicians) and there were challenges involved that I hadn’t thought about: some could not recognise the written word anymore; some could not write anymore; some only had use of one arm; some had lost fingers…but all of these challenges were overcome with inventiveness, determination and lots of repetition to retrain the brain. The six weeks culminated with a performance at an Open Mic night at The Odd Bar in the Northern Quarter, where we sang a couple of covers and our two original songs. A brilliant and emotional night was had by all, and from the feedback we’ve had so far, the workshops have had a massive effect on the confidence of all the participants. It most certainly had a massive effect on me!
The Stroke Choir will be performing again at a public exhibition and engagement event to be held in Manchester in the autumn. Come along and say hello!