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Singing for your lungs in Cornwall

Pip shares her story of setting up a singing group for people with lung conditions.

I’ve been teaching singing in West Cornwall for a few years now.

Some of the singers I work with are living with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a lung condition that makes it difficult to breathe and do everyday tasks.

I didn’t need much convincing that singing was good for your health – but one of my singers with COPD had her doctor confirm that her lung health had improved. The only difference in her lifestyle was singing three times a week!

I wanted to find out more, so I went to a talk on the benefits of singing when you have COPD. I was excited to hear that there was research to back this up.

Not long after the talk, I joined a series of singing group training days at the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospital, who are experts in lung health. With my experience and keen interest, they encouraged me to go ahead and start a new singing group back home in Cornwall.

I was also selected to take part in the British Lung Foundation’s singing training. This helped support me to run a singing group specifically for people with a lung condition.

Starting the COPD singing group

Things in West Cornwall work very much by word of mouth, so I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested. But amazingly, things really took off, and we had 22 people come along on our busiest day!

The group is made up of such lovely mixture of people: men and women, experienced singers who are part of choirs, and people who haven’t sung a note since school. There are also a few people who used to enjoy singing but thought their lung condition meant they would never sing again.

I always say all voices are welcome – low voices, high voices, never-sung-before or no-idea-what-I-am voices! I believe the skill of the singing leader is to find a place for everyone.

We have a relaxed and supportive atmosphere so people feel comfortable to have a go whether they sing regularly or not. Everyone knows their own body best and how they’re feeling on a particular day, so they can make their own decisions about how hard to push themselves.

However, a positive atmosphere helps everyone achieve as much as they can. We’re not too heavy about it, and we’re always ready to have a laugh.

Hard work that pays off

It’s been a lot of work for the whole team to keep the group running. We started a trial for just one month to see how many people would come along. We were very lucky to receive funding from the BLF and a generous donor to continue the group.

But even though it can be hard work at times, what makes it worthwhile is the joy and transformation in our singers.

Harmony singing is all about that – the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. I’m told by many singers how isolated they can feel, so being part of a community again is wonderful – for all of us.

‘I came not feeling very good, but went home feeling brilliant!’

‘My breathing is so much better at the end of each session.’

‘I didn’t know I could sing but I’m having a go and enjoying it!’

‘The singing has helped my breathing when walking.’

‘I was able to cope more easily this time I had a chest infection’

Pride and joy

I really enjoy the Breathing Space Singing sessions. I’m still often surprised and delighted by the beautiful and moving sounds we’re able to make – sometimes with only 10 or 12 singers. If you walked in by chance, you’d never believe these singers are living with chronic lung conditions. I think we’re quite proud of that.

Inspired by Pip’s story? Find your local singing group for lung health.

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5 February 2016