Posted by Jamasb Sayadi
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first stepped foot in the United Parish of Auburndale last February. While I was eager to begin singing with the JF&CS Tremble Clefs, there seemed to be more than a few degrees of separation between its members and myself, a 21-year-old Iranian-American student from California. I worried that it might take weeks for me to warm up to the group and become a real member of their community. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My relationship with the Tremble Clefs began through a course called “Music and Disability,” taught by Dr. Andrew Clark at Harvard. The class covered topics ranging from the social construction of disability to the use of neurological music therapy in stroke rehabilitation. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the course, however, was its requirement for students to spend the semester learning from a “community partner.” In turn, Dr. Clark hoped we would see the concepts discussed in class being put into practice in the real world. For me, this community partner was none other than the Tremble Clefs. When I saw the option of singing in a choir of Parkinson’s patients on my syllabus, I knew I had found the right fit.
At this point, you might be wondering why a 21-year-old student like myself has such a keen interest in Parkinson’s. The answer lies in the fact that I have spent my entire life witnessing the effects of this disease firsthand. My father was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease at the age of 39, one year after I was born. I grew up attending monthly Parkinson’s support group meetings attended by dozens of families across Orange County, California who also had loved ones with the condition. These support group members eventually became some of my closest friends.
Interestingly, I have experienced a similar bond with the Tremble Clefs since that first rehearsal back in February. There’s something about listening to life stories, discussing symptoms, and talking about upcoming doctor’s appointments in a room full of people afflicted with Parkinson’s that feels natural to me. Yet, there is an element to the Tremble Clefs that goes beyond anything I have experienced before: the singing. From its cheeky name to their ingenious reworking of classic tunes to incorporate lyrics that make light of their disease, the Tremble Clefs’ approach to music exemplifies their strength and optimism in the face of Parkinson’s. There is no doubt in my mind that singing with a group of such optimistic people every Monday can work wonders on one’s attitude toward life’s challenges, whether they involve Parkinson’s disease or not.
Given my family’s experience with Parkinson’s and my personal aspiration to one day become a physician, I feel honored to have been welcomed into the Tremble Clefs community over these past few months. With college graduation now in the rear view mirror, I am currently working as a clinical research assistant in the Neurology department of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Under the guidance of Dr. David Simon and Dr. Samuel Frank, I will help coordinate the hospital’s Wellness Works program that extends opportunities like Rock Steady Boxing, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Boot Camp for Parkinson’s patients throughout Boston. In addition, I will be working on research projects related to Huntington’s, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease. Finally, I am also applying to medical school and hope to begin my studies in the Fall of 2018.