They’re singing for health

The Breathe Easy Choir pictured during rehearsals at the the Danske Studio at the Millennium Forum. DER4613SL001
The Breathe Easy Choir pictured during rehearsals at the the Danske Studio at the Millennium Forum. DER4613SL001

Singing is not something many of us would normally associate with people who have chronic lung conditions.

But the techniques finely honed by professional singers can go a long way to help people with such diseases, as one group of local people have been finding out.

Bobby Whoriskey. (DER4513PG040)

Bobby Whoriskey. (DER4513PG040)

Forty people from the North West who have chronic lung conditions, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, asthma and lung cancer, have been singing for their health for the last number of weeks.

And next week they will take to the stage of the Millennium Forum to showcase their talent and the benefits of singing.

The choir was set up thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund and Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s ‘Culture for All’ programme. For the last eight weeks members have been taught to relax, sing and breathe effectively.

The choir is aimed at reducing the isolation many people living with COPD experience as well as creating a sense of community and support among people in similar situation.

Singing is a great way for people with lung conditions to improve their breathing and general well-being.

One member, Bobby Whoriskey, admits that he initially thought it wouldn’t be for him. Once he got over the initial nervousness and embarassment at singing in public he has enjoyed every minute.

Bobby was diagnosed with the lung condition Bronchiectasis almost 15 years ago. An active sportsman, he was shocked to discover he had an incurable and debilitating condition.

“When I first found out my initial reaction was how do we cure it? I was told that it is incurable, degenerative and progressive, which are three not very nice words in medical terms.”

Bobby’s life now involves a regime of medication, with him taking up to eight medications a day, and other steps to avoid infections.

“The condition makes me more prone to infection so I have try to avoid social events or large family gatherings. But I try not to let it stop me doing most things”.

“It does have a debilitating effect on my daily life. Even though I look reasonably healthy the reality of this condition is that I will end up on oxygen. I have worked hard at avoiding that so far”.

Visiting the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital is something Bobby must do annually. And it is thanks to one nurse there, Helena Phelan, 
that he has joined the choir and will be taking to the stage next week.

“When I was asked to get involved I immediately thought this not for me. I went home and thought about it for a while, but decided to take part because the staff at Pulmonary Rehab go to so much effort for people like me”.

“I thought I would go and try it for one week, but I am enjoying every minute and I’m seeing the benefits of it”.

Not only is Bobby learning vital breathing exercises and relaxation techniques but he is reaping the benefit of a new support network.

At the minute the project is reliant on Lottery funding and donations, but Bobby would like to see the Western Health and Social Care Trust fund further projects.

“I would really like to continue doing this. People with lung diseases are cheaper at home and not sick. When we’re in hospital we are expensive. If projects like this were budgeted for there would be a bigger payback for the Trust in the long run”.

The Singing for Health concert starts at 8pm on November 21. Tickets are available at the Millenium Forum Box Office. Phone 028 7126 4455 or visit