Posted by Marilyn Okonow
I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I was too busy singing all the Linda Ronstadt songs in my head that I used to perform. My sleeplessness was triggered by the news that one of my biggest idols and singers, Linda Ronstadt, age 67, has Parkinson’s disease and has tragically lost her voice. I knew every lyric, chord, inflection, and guitar solo of all of her biggest hits. The melodies of the songs she sang were simple and accessible, and the purity and strength of her voice were beyond compare. She was simply a petite dynamo.
I can understand how devastated she must be that she can no longer sing. I am currently the musical director of a choral group at Jewish Family & Children’s Service called the Tremble Clefs. This chorus is comprised of Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers. Each week as we sing, we concentrate on things like breath control, diction, phrasing, and dynamics. Our warm-ups are designed to address the difficulties that many Parkinson’s patients have in using their voices. In the words of Dan, a Tremble Clefs member, “Singing is possible with therapy and groups like Tremble Clefs - we’re living proof!”
I would bet that in the course of her career, Ms. Ronstadt worked with vocal coaches to maintain the health of her vocal chords, and now, even with all her experience and training, this awful disease has taken that away from her. The one thing I have learned about Parkinson’s is that it manifests itself differently in different people. So lest people get the wrong impression, not everyone loses the ability to sing or speak when they have Parkinson’s. And while as of yet there is limited data, in our chorus we have found that singing every week does help people increase the strength of their voice.
Now that the news is out about Ms. Ronstadt, we will be working on a medley of her greatest hits. We will make a video that we can send to her that will hopefully inspire HER to fight the fight, just as her music inspired an entire generation. Sadly, Ms. Ronstadt joins the ranks of those affected by this difficult disease. We hope she finds the support she needs to cope with the challenges that lie ahead. Linda: to quote one of your hits, we’re “gonna love you…. for a long, long time.”
Marilyn Okonow is the volunteer conductor of Tremble Clefs choral group, a program of JF&CS Parkinson’s Family Support. Marilyn engages the singers with great sincerity and heartfelt warmth and acceptance. She creates a sense of community and makes each participant feel welcome and appreciated. Marilyn gets to know each individual, highlighting his or her strengths and quirks with a kind sense of humor.