Hong Kong: Music therapist strikes right note with 'stroke choir'

Hong Kong: Music therapist strikes right note with 'stroke choir'
Chung King-man (centre) has been nominated for the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Some sing it loud. Others lip-synch while shaking their tambourines and maracas in rhythm.

The group of around 30 people, most of whom have recovered from strokes, gather at the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation's service centre in Quarry Bay to find their voice in a choir.

The singers soon blend their voices together as they belt out one tune after another in the ensemble session. Many elderly choir members become excited and throw themselves heart and soul into the vocal workout the moment they hear the first few notes of The Bund - a Canto-pop hit from the late 1970s.

Chung King-man, who initiated the "stroke choir", said the elderly members liked to sing familiar songs.

Chung King-man selects songs based on the patients’ needs and tastes.Photo: South China Morning Post

"I select tunes based on their needs and cultural tastes," he said. "I also write new songs for them."

While singing together with his choir members, Chung also explored the meanings of life and family relationships with them through discussion of the lyrics.

Photo: South China Morning Post

The choir was formed four years ago by the society and Chung, an Australian-registered music therapist, to provide speech rehabilitation support for stroke patients living with aphasia, a disorder that impairs a person's ability to speak and understand others.

"I want to tell people that [these stroke survivors] can't speak but they can sing," Chung said.

Apart from the stroke choir, he set up two singing groups for cancer patients, with the same aim of making life better for these unfortunate people and helping connect them with the community.

For his efforts, the music therapist has been nominated by the society for the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards, which are co-organised by the South China Morning Post and property developer Sino Group.

Chung is nominated under the Spirit of Community award, which honours individuals who dedicate their time and energy to help, serve and make a positive impact on their community or those in need.

The music therapist said he hoped more patients could benefit from their work.

Citing evidence-based studies, Chung said music therapy could help lower anxiety and reduce the impact of trauma among stroke patients.

Chung King-man says it’s not important whether members can sing well. Photo: South China Morning Post

"They can also socialise more and improve speech during the gatherings," he said, adding the choir had been giving public performances.

"It's not important whether they can sing well or develop perfect pitch.

"They are singing their lives. Their repertoire choices reflect their own experiences."

The choir members, who had various levels of physical disabilities, used to organise their programmes, write new songs and sing for two whole hours in a performance.

"I was deeply moved by their work," Chung said.

Chung, who chairs the Hong Kong Music Therapy Association, has been promoting the use of music to improve public health and wellness through organising community projects and conferences.

"I want to help more people - cancer patients, mentally disabled persons, children and the elderly - to have their voices heard. Such empowerment can strengthen their sense of identity and enable them to find hope," he believed.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post

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