The power of song - meet the special choir for people with cancer
A number of research studies have revealed how good singing can be for someone's health.Not only does it help improve breathing and lung capacity, it also helps people feeling isolated or lacking in confidence.
And, although singing cannot cure illnesses or diseases, it can certainly help those going through treatment or recovery.
One such choir is dedicated to helping people who have been affected by cancer.
Quay of Sea Voices is part of the Portsmouth-based Fine Voice Academy, run by Simon Long.
The choir is for people who have been diagnosed with cancer, are having treatment, are in remission or have close family or friends with the illness.
The idea behind the choir came from Fine Voice Academy member Ken Ebbens through work he did with the Wessex Cancer Trust. After discussing proposals for the choir with Simon, it was formed.
Ken says: ‘In Romsey, they had set up a similar choir and having met Simon a few years before, I sat down with him and asked if he could it.
‘Between us, we were keen to do something and help teach people affected by cancer to sing.’
Immediately, Simon thought of the health benefits the choir could have for anyone who decided to join and, in 2013, formed the group.
He adds: ‘I thought about using singing to help with breathing and teaching members of the choir to sing for the good effects it can have.
‘It gave me the chance to teach them about the benefits of using singing to improve their breathing, but also coming together to enjoy themselves.’
Members of Quay of Sea Voices are under no pressure to know the songs from memory and there is no pressure for people to sing at shows in front of audiences.
Ken said one of the key aims of the choir was to take pressure off people.
‘People affected by cancer have enough stress in their lives as it is,’ he says.
‘We didn’t want to add to that, so there is no pressure in being a member of the choir. People are encouraged to just sing as well as they can and it is not about learning songs off by heart.
‘That was a key focus of the choir, to be stress-free.’
The choir meets weekly at St Cuthbert’s Community Centre on Hayling Avenue, in Copnor. Between 7pm and 9pm every Thursday during school term-times they sing their favourite songs, led by Simon.
And for those who have the confidence and desire to sing at events and in front of audiences, the choir does offer that opportunity too.
As well as singing by themselves, Quay of Sea Voices also performs alongside Fine Voice Academy at different shows in the city.
Ann Cotter, from Hilsea, is part of the Quay of Sea Voices choir.
She joined the group having battled breast cancer herself and seeing her brother go through chemotherapy.
The 69-year-old says: ‘I heard about the choir while my brother was getting treatment and I suggested we should go along.
‘This was just after it had formed so I was one of the first.
‘It is a fantastic group to be a part of and I love the singing side of it – it is good fun.
‘I hadn’t sung in the past and didn’t even know that I could. That is one of the things I like about Quay of Sea Voices. It is very inclusive and not rigid, people can really do as they please.’
Ann also liked the fact the choir fundraised for good causes. She adds: ‘We have also raised money for cancer charities at events, which is a really lovely thing to be involved with.
‘I also like the fact we join up with Fine Voice Academy and practice and do shows with them.’
The group also sometimes practice with the Fine Voice Academy which was started by Simon a few years ago.
The academy offers choir singing as well as private lessons from tenor Simon, who studied in Italy and has a diploma in music teaching.
He has been singing for most of his life and found a passion for teaching others.
Simon says: ‘I decided a few years ago that I wanted singing to be more than a hobby of mine, I wanted to turn it into a career.
‘I started studying in Italy and found my voice progressing quite quickly.
‘When I returned to England, people were asking me for lessons and I got a bit of interest. So, I decided to do a diploma in music teaching.’
In October 2016, Simon started holding his Fine Voice Academy sessions at St Cuthbert’s Community Centre which also has a studio.
Since then, the academy has grown and Simon said he was pleased so many people were into singing with his groups.
‘I like to think we offer something for everyone,’ he added.
‘I GET SO MUCH OUT OF IT’
When Yvonne Barber joined the Quay of Sea Voices, she did not expect to get as much out of the group as she did.
The 61-year-old, from Baffins, joined after her friend Elaine told her about the choir.
Since then, she has been an avid member and has loved being a part of it.
She says: ‘I love it, everyone is so lovely and I do enjoy the singing.
‘I have been part of performances I never thought I would be, including Children in Need and doing a show at the Square Tower.
‘We have also done Christmas songs up the Spinnaker Tower. I never expected to get so much out of it.’
Yvonne says she would encourage people affected by cancer who want to socialise or get into singing to come along to the choir.
‘Once you learn to sing, this group is amazing,’ she adds.
‘And even before you do, it is enjoyable because you meet so many different people and the weekly practices are good fun. You aren’t forced to do anything, it is your own choice.’
Mother and daughter duo Kirsten and Harriet Child (inset, facing page) have been part of the Fine Voice Academy for four years.
Harriet, 17, has autism and in the past had struggled with her speech.
So Kirsten, from Waterlooville, put her into singing to help with her speech but to also encourage her to grow more confident.
Since joining, Harriet has seen both her speaking and confidence improve, something she puts down to the stress-free and enjoyable atmosphere of Fine Voice Academy.
She says: ‘Singing has helped with my confidence but it also has lots of health benefits too. It makes me happy when I sing and being part of this group is like having an extended family.
‘Everyone supports each other and it is like being part of a big family.’
Kirsten has also enjoyed seeing her daughter grow and is proud of how much she has come out of her shell in the past few years.
‘Seeing Harriet progress has been amazing,’ she says.
‘It is also lovely that we can do this together and have time just us two, singing and doing something we love.’
The pair also had high praise for Simon Long, who has influenced Harriet’s favourite genre of music to sing - opera.
She says: ‘Simon has helped me so much. He has got an attention to detail that really worked for me.
‘I would encourage anyone thinking about joining a choir to just do it.
‘It isn’t about how well you sing here, people can just be themselves and get so much out of it.’
For more information on the choir visit finevoice.co.uk/choir-and-chorus/qosv.