- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

COLCHESTER, Vt. (AP) - The members of a unique Vermont choir may have difficulty talking due to strokes and other speech difficulties, but when they sing, it’s a whole different story.

Members of the Aphasia Choir, named for the language impairment caused by stroke or other brain injuries, say that singing is liberating and an outlet from the frustration they feel due to their inability to communicate fluidly.

University of Vermont Medical Center speech pathologist Karen McFeeters Leary says she started the choir three years ago with 11 members and it has grown to 17 singers, the Burlington Free Press reported Press (https://bfpne.ws/1t8Ooho .)

Leary said that because the hemisphere of the brain that mediates music is undamaged, stroke survivors can often sing more easily than they can speak.

“I know the talking challenges faced by these people, especially the three who can’t talk at all. Watching those mouths moving, it’s incredible,” said Leary. “Of everything I have done personally and professionally, this tops the cake.”

Among the singers is Jay O’Neill, who suffered a stroke 13 years ago and had difficulty during rehearsal introducing the song they would perform next due to post-stroke aphasia.

“Singing is no problem at all. I did it well from the start,” he said. “It’s an outlet.”

Leary said the choir empowers the singers to educate the public about their condition while boosting their own self-esteem.

“When you can’t communicate you lose friendships and connections,” she said. That changes, she said, when stroke survivors interact with each other in the choir. “You get a sense of belonging. It’s amazing to see the joy.”

Leary said she asks choir members who can speak to take turns introducing a song during performances, to help show people what those with aphasia deal with on a daily basis. They had a chance to highlight this during a performance Sunday at St. Michael’s College.

“The audience needs to hear the challenge,” Leary said.

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Information from: The Burlington Free Press, https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com

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