By CYNTHIA ROBERTSON | Mission Times Courier
It’s always been said that singing is good for the mind and body. A group called the Tremble Clefs, whose members practice at Palisades Presbyterian Church in Allied Gardens, proves this on a whole other level. Originally formed in 1994, Tremble Clefs members are people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Clever name, clever concept — and it works. People living with Parkinson’s benefit from the activities in a Tremble Clefs session through the vocalizing, movement, remembering complex song lyrics, timing and harmonics. They also all enjoy the socialization at the weekly practices, making friends in a non-judgmental environment.
Marketing manager Jeff Castell explains why singing helps to mitigate the effects of Parkinson’s.
“People living with Parkinson’s can have symptoms of a diminishing voice, loss of facial expression, diminished movement, changes in posture, shallow breathing and they can experience isolation and loneliness,” he said. “We encourage people to come ‘test drive’ a session and see what it’s all about. They usually always return because it is a very welcoming, friendly community of like-minded people who support one another.”
Tremble Clefs members have come to the group via referral from a vocal therapist, movement disorder specialist, friends, family or by word of mouth from support groups and exercise classes that they participate in.
“It’s a cross pollination of all the Parkinson’s community. People also have found us by their searches online leading them to trembleclefs.com and our social media channels on Facebook and Instagram,” Castell said.
San Carlos resident Sharon Zelin said that her husband Ken Sinclair was referred to Tremble Clefs through a member of a support group that they both attend. He had been diagnosed with an atypical Parkinsonian disease called Lewy Body Dementia, which impacts his speaking voice, and he has suffered a few choking spells.
“We weren’t sure we would initially fit into this group, but were very surprised how welcoming the members were,” said Zelin.
Founder and president, Karen Hesley, a speech-language pathologist with degrees in linguistics and communication disorders, established the voice and movement program in 1994 while working at the Scottsdale Memorial Hospital in Arizona. In 2001, additional locations were established in central San Diego, Rancho Bernardo and Encinitas. Tremble Clefs San Diego, Inc. was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2016 and has grown nationally with additional locations in Massachusetts, Missouri and Washington.
The therapeutic benefits of singing for people with Parkinson’s emerged from Hesley’s work as a speech therapist while providing the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT). Primary speech symptoms include low voice volume and poor articulation. Singing addresses both of these issues, explained Hesley, a San Diego County resident.
Hesley explained that she and others soon discovered that the therapeutic gains of singing went beyond increasing volume and improving articulation.
“Tremble Clefs provides a social environment which offered the singers an enjoyable, communal activity and the motivation to communicate. The success of the initial group was based not only on the therapeutic results, but also on the joy and power of choral singing and on the amazing spirit and courage of the individual members.
“This is still true today, after 25 years, and continues with each new chorus that joins the Tremble Clefs family,” Hesley said.
Zelin can vouch for this. “Although Ken does not sing loudly, nor does he like his singing voice, he gets the opportunity to exercise and work his vocal muscles, and interact with others, which is socially a very positive thing,” she said. “We both love the music we sing, enjoy the instrumental component, and really like our music director, Matt. We especially enjoy our violinist Francesca.”
Sammy Knight, another San Carlos resident who sings with Tremble Clefs, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in September 2014. Afterward, his nurse practitioner recommended the group.
“I went to the next practice and have been going ever since,” he said.
Castell’s own spouse was diagnosed in 2012 and had difficulties with swallowing prior to attending TCSD sessions. His vocal therapist referred him to participate in the weekly TC sessions.
“He has become audibly louder and much clearer to understand. He also performs in the seasonal talent shows as the emcee as well as reading his own original stories aloud,” said Castell, who also participates in the weekly sessions.
“I love it. I get to spend time with my spouse sharing something we both can do together and having a professional singer and musical director like Matthew Ignacio has surely improved my vocal abilities,” he said.
Castell said that he has enjoyed the many friendships made in the singing group.
Knight thinks the same. “No one is self-conscious of their symptoms when you are at TC. Members may shake, have difficulty walking or even be in a wheelchair and all are perfectly accepted. We can relax and be ourselves with others who understand exactly what we are going through,” he said.
Tremble Clefs is a free program with no auditions and members do not have to know how to sing. At Palisades Presbyterian Church, the weekly practice sessions are Thursdays, 1 to 3 p.m.
The public is invited to hear the Tremble Clefs perform at a Spring Benefit Concert on March 13, 2020, at 7 p.m., at Palisades Presbyterian Church, 6301 Birchwood St. The concert will feature Quartetto Luminoso, a virtuoso classical ensemble comprised of clarinetist Robert Zelickman, violinist Päivikki Nykter, violist Francesca Savage and cellist Cecilia Kim. Musical works are to include composers Stamitz, Sibelius, Piazzolla, Crussell and others. This marks the fourth year Quartetto Luminoso has performed to support Tremble Clefs San Diego and raise awareness of Parkinson’s.
For ticket information, call 619-363-0814 or go to trembleclefs.com.
— Cynthia Robertson has been a local freelance writer and photographer for more than 30 years. She is also the author of a novel, ‘Where You See Forever.’ Her website is cynthiarobertson.com.