‘Once More, With Feeling’: How Singing Can Benefit MS Patients

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by Jamie Hughes |

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A few weekends ago, I had what I’ve described as a mini midlife crisis. Things with the kids were a mess, my husband was out of town again (to help with a building project on the family farm), and surrounded by the mess and bother of everyday life, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Is this all there is until the end? Am I just destined to fade into obscurity and irrelevancy?”

But I’m me, and I don’t tend to sit in puddles of self-loathing for very long. I’m a doer, a fixer, a person who takes care of problems. I began asking myself what I could do to combat these feelings. What could I do to challenge myself that was manageable on top of everything else I have to do in this life?

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As always, I turned to books for answers and came across “Midlife: A Philosophical Guide” by Kieran Setiya. He offers several excellent observations. First, he writes, “You have to care about something other than yourself” if you want to stave off a true midlife crisis. Also, you must “make room for activities with existential value.”

The second one seemed to be where I was lacking. Well, picking my instrument, the French horn, up again didn’t seem workable. That thing takes up so much time, and I barely had the bandwidth for it in college and when I was a newlywed sans kids. But music seemed like a great option, especially for an MS patient like me.

I’ve always enjoyed singing and have performed as part of several groups throughout my life, but I’ve never taken private lessons, never had someone train me how to breathe properly and work on things like phrasing and diction. It seemed like a good fit. After all, I can sing anywhere, and I think I’ll see some good results early on. That’ll push me to keep going.

I found a vocal coach nearby who works out of her home, and I’ve scheduled my first lesson. I’m very much looking forward to it. Though, truthfully, I’m a wee bit nervous as well. It’s one thing to sing for your family or in the shower where no one is listening, but to stand in front of a woman who was trained at Juilliard, well, that’s a horse of a different color. I’ve chosen Annie Lennox’s “Wonderful” as my “audition” piece, and I’ve been practicing every day for about a week. I’m hoping it goes well.

If you’re in the same boat, I cannot recommend music enough. Maybe you’re not a singer (or as my granddad used to say, “You can’t carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it”). That’s just fine. Pick up an instrument — guitars, ukuleles, and other stringed instruments are easy to get your hands on. Working with percussion instruments can also be great for hand-eye coordination and fine muscle movement. There are plenty of great instructors out there if you want to take up piano or even a brass or woodwind instrument. The options are limitless these days, especially with online lessons as an option!

And the benefits really do outweigh any of the challenges that come with starting something new. According to the NAMM Foundation, “… music engages areas of the brain which are involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating events in our memory.” It also helps with memory and language skills.

Opera North, an English opera company, lists several reasons singing is particularly vital for good health. Not only does it make you feel better, but it can also enhance lung function, allow you to de-stress, and even help with pain relief. It’s also nice to be a member of a community, to share a passion with others who are like you. (That’s something we all really need after a year and a half of social distancing!)

So if you’re like me and feel a little lost these days, consider finding your “thing” — that activity “with existential value” that can help you feel a little more grounded, a little more like yourself. I’d love to hear about what you’re thinking about trying (or what you’re already engaged in). Tell me about it in the comments!

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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