Author: Monique Beeler

As well-wishers bearing bouquets filed into a rehearsal room in the Music Building on a chill December afternoon, 14 choir members dressed in red-and-black had already taken their seats, preparing to warm the hall with their first performance.

A diverse group of men and women who once worked in professions including rock musician and in-home caregiver and ranging in age from 40s to 80s, choir members share one common trait: Each is a client of the Aphasia Treatment Program offered by Cal State East Bay’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Most commonly caused by a stroke, asphasia is a disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate but doesn’t affect intelligence.

“Through the choir, people have talked about the power and magic of music,” said Ellen Bernstein-Ellis, director of the Aphasia Treatment Program and founder of the choir –– the only one of its kind in the Bay Area and one of a handful offered nationwide. “Maybe Ella Fitzgerald said it best: The only thing better than singing is singing some more. So without further ado, may I introduce to you the choir.”

Following the welcoming remarks, graduate student and Choir Musical Director Michelle Lussier steps to the music stand set up before the group. At her signal, they launch into a series of familiar tunes including holiday standards, Motown favorites and pop hits such as Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.”

“No, I won’t be afraid, no, I won’t be afraid/Just as long as you stand, stand by me …” choir members sang in unison.

Despite difficulty communicating, research has shown that music and singing can help those with aphasia access language in a way they can’t through regular speech, explained Lussier, 40.

“There are a couple people in the group who can speak really only one word at a time but who can sing songs they know pretty fluently,” she said.
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