Project pairs Edmonton Symphony Orchestra with Parkinson Alberta

A new pilot project is bringing together the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Parkinson Alberta. Members of the orchestra are paired with people with Parkinson's to make music.

'I’ve been able to focus on controlling my tremor, and trying to do as best I can with the instrument'

Controlling Parkinson's with music

7 years ago
Duration 1:41
Members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra are pairing up with musicians who have Parkinson's disease to get them playing again.

A cacophony of sound greets you as you enter the Buchanan Centre, home of Parkinson Alberta.

Together a group of people are making music as part of a pilot project.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Parkinson Alberta teamed up for five weeks, pairing musicians with people who haven't picked up an instrument in a long time.

Cam Brown practices his violin as part of pilot project between Parkinson Alberta and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. (CBC)

When Vaughn Atkinson, a former elementary music teacher, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease he all but gave up playing instruments.

"We have many people with Parkinson's who were instrumentalists and this is a way for them to keep up their skills, to rediscover their skills, to know that even though they have the disease, they still can do what they like doing and can still have a full, and varied life," Atkinson said. 

Vaughn Atkinson practices the recorder along with his teacher. (CBC)

Atkinson himself has been working with a musician once a week to re-learn his skills.

"Part of Parkinson is the tremor, a lot of people know it. So it makes it difficult for me to play the recorder the way I used to. But coming here I've been able to focus on controlling my tremor, and trying to do as best I can with the instrument."

The program combines music, movement, and music improvisation led by Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-Residence John McPherson and staff of the Winspear Centre for Music.

Alison Kenny-Gardhouse, director of musical creativity with the symphony, says the musicians enjoy teaching their students.

The pilot project combines music, movement, and music improvisation. (CBC)

"To be able to come together and do something that is positive. It may not always sound perfect, it's never about perfection," said Kenny-Gardhouse.

"It's that joy of being able to make music together, to me that is a tremendous success."

Brandi LeBonte, spokesperson with Parkinson Alberta, says this is just one of many projects they offer to their clients to return to them a bit of normality.

"One of the things we hear from our clients, especially when they are new to us is, 'I used to be.'

"I used to be a musician, I used to be an athlete, I used to be an artist. And one of the things we really try and do at Parkinson Alberta is remind them there is no used to be, you still are. Parkinson's disease is what you have, it is not who you are."

With files from Trevor Wilson