Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's choir breathing life into lungs 

While there’s been no official test measuring change in breathing capabilities, Better Breathing Choir members who live with lung disease or dysfunction say it’s helping.

Better Breathing Choir is for people with lung disease or breathing difficulties 

Sean Callahan has been with the choir almost since its start. (Katie Breen/CBC)

While there's been no official test measuring change in breathing capabilities, Better Breathing Choir members who live with lung disease or dysfunction say the choir is helping.

"My lung capacity has increased amazingly," said chorister, Sean Callahan. "You actually think about breathing — probably most of us don't through the day — but when you come here to choir you really do."

"I mean, you feel healthier when you leave here."   

Better Breathing Choir meets on Wednesday evenings at Memorial University's School of Music. 

Music as a vessel

Practice starts with an easy physical warm up and breathing and coordination exercises, which are lead by a physiotherapist and designed for people with breathing difficulties. 

There's various stretching, deep breathing and shape exhalations. 

Margaret Maloney, 87, has been singing with the choir for a little over two years. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Choir director Jane Gosine then leads the group through vocal exercises and song. 

"I absolutely love coming along each week, and meeting all the different people, and finding a way in which music can be used sort of as a vessel for social wellbeing and improving the way in which people feel about themselves," she said.  

The choir's oldest member, Margaret Maloney, 87, leaves every practice feeling "invigorated." 

Eight years ago, she came down with pneumonia. Medications damaged her vocal chords and the ensuing asthma required her to go on regular oxygen.

This choir for people with lung disease or breathing difficulties meets once a week. 2:09

She was devastated about having to quit her regular choral group, until learning about Better Breathing Choir.

"The exercises here are very easy to do and actually some of them are fun so I don't mind going home and doing them, you know?"

There's no pressure, she said. The choir is always taking new members and no previous singing experience is required to join.

"Nobody cares if you sing really good … they don't come around and listen to you and see if you're in tune," Maloney said with a laugh. 

Choir director Jane Gosine says, in addition to the breathing and singing exercises, the social aspect of the choir is really important. (Katie Breen/CBC)

After practice, the group serves refreshments and socializes. Gosine, the director, said that's a key part of the experience. 

"I see a real sense of community and camaraderie among the participants," said Maggie Power, one of the many volunteers who help run the choir. 

"I think it's not only a therapeutic choir to improve breathing, as such, but it's also a support group, in a sense, for people with these types of conditions."

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