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Stroke survivor chime choir weekly highlight at Edward

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Hana Jones (left) conducts stroke survivors and their spouses as they play chimes last month at the Edward Heart Hospital in Naperville. The chime choir meets to play the instruments as therapy for their minds and hands. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

How it helps

Stroke chime choir benefits:

Improved focus and concentration

Practice in motor planning and execution

Increased speech fluency

Sense of accomplishment

Community with other survivors

Fun and laughter

To learn more about the chime choir, contact Kevin Callison of Edward Hospital at 630-527-5327.

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Updated: March 16, 2012 8:06AM

The gentle chime tones of “Love Me Tender” float past the spiral staircase in the lobby of the Edward Heart Hospital. Chime choir members (stroke survivors and caregivers) sit in a semi-circle following the cues of their director. Outside a chill winter wind whips past, but here beside the glowing fireplace it’s cozy, the music calming.

A woman nearby nods toward the chime players. “It’s so beautiful; so peaceful,” she says.

But the choir isn’t playing for the benefit of passers-by, although they’re glad for someone to listen. Rather, they gather for support and, hopefully, healing.

The stroke chime choir began in October, the brainchild of Judy Smith and Charlie Welsh, both caregivers to stroke survivors. They learned of the therapeutic and social benefits of chime playing while at a stroke camp. Welsh was immediately hooked on the idea, and with Smith’s help, found music therapist and choir director Hana Jones.

They chose the chimes over other instruments for their simplicity and the skills exercised in playing them.

“The tone chimes sound beautiful,” Jones says. “There aren’t many ways you can play them that sound bad.”

The handheld tone chimes are played with a snapping motion, followed by dampening on the opposite shoulder. It’s a simple action involving many skills a stroke survivor may be working on improving.

“There’s a lot of eye contact and attention to be sustained, as well as the motor planning it takes to play the bell,” Jones notes.

Music helps brain

This evening the group works on “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Jones points to each member when it’s their turn to play, progressing to chords where she cues several people to play at once. Members sing along as they play.

The physical effects of playing the chimes may not be immediately recognizable, but for one member who struggles with speech, it’s particularly striking.

“Often Bob talks much more at the end of rehearsal than at the beginning,” Jones says.

Bob’s wife, Judy, explains what happens.

“Music is all over the brain. So if your stroke is on your left side and it wipes out your language, you can draw from other parts of your brain where the music is still viable. You can build speech on it.”

Working together

Besides the physical act of playing and singing, there’s also a sense of accomplishment in making music.

Kevin Callison, manager of Cardiopulmonary Rehab at Edward Hospital, notes the cumulative effect of playing in the group.

“You might just be hitting one note, but when you put it all together, you can hear the song develop. It’s a lot of fun.”

And that’s as important as the work done on motor skills.

“It’s something survivors and caregivers can do together and feel proud of at the end of the night,” Jones says.

Smith agrees.

“That’s especially rewarding for the stroke survivors. To just have fun and make pretty music and laugh.” She pauses, reflecting. “For me, too. To take a breath and truly enjoy that hour — it’s very rewarding for me.”

As the last notes of their song die away, the group laughs and cheers.

Smith sums up the experience.

“Its important to know stroke survivors always have the potential for growth and achievement.”

The chime choir simply brings out that potential.

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