Tremble Clefs: Chandler-based choir helps Parkinson’s sufferers

Carolyn Perkins leads a new music therapy group for Parkinson's disease patients in Chandler. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

By Ken Sain

Carolyn Perkins knows the Catch-22 of being a Parkinson’s patient.

They sometimes isolate themselves because of the difficulty speaking and being understood by others. That can lead to a vicious cycle: the more they isolate the less they speak to others, and the worse their speech can get.

As the music director for The Tremble Clefs, Perkins is hoping to end that cycle.

“What happens to people with Parkinson’s is that they start retreating and isolate themselves, because they are embarrassed because they can’t speak clearly or be understood,” Perkins says.

The Tremble Clefs returned to Chandler recently and will be based in Sun Lakes. The music group was thriving for eight years but was forced to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By participating in the choir, people with Parkinson’s can socialize and improve their vocals, making it easier to be understood by others.

“The nice thing about singing is that it does a tremendous amount for us,” she says. “It’s really a neat thing, because we have rhythm, which is the left side of the brain, the analytical side, and then we have the emotional side of the brain, which is the right side.”

She says singing forces people to use both sides of their brain together.

“Singing is the bridge that puts both sides of the brain together,” Perkins says.

Donna Rosenheck said being a Tremble Clef was great for her husband, Al, who had Parkinson’s disease.

“We joined Tremble Clefs in 2009, it made a world of difference for my husband,” she says. “It’s a difficult disease, and there is no cure. It kept his voice going, and his breathing, and his posture. They were a wonderful support group.”

In addition to singing, the Tremble Clefs work on their motor skills. Perkins says they do hand jives to help their cognitive abilities and have fun. There are now four Tremble Clefs choirs in Arizona: Chandler/Sun Lakes, Scottsdale, Mesa and Sun City.

Tremble Clefs was founded in 1994 in Scottsdale by speech therapist Karen Hesley. The current director of the group is Sun Joo Lee.

“She’s wonderful,” Perkins says. “She has the vision to make this nationwide, which I think is so great because there are not many resources for people with Parkinson’s.”

Perkins teaches music out of her home and directed the choirs at Desert Cross Lutheran Church in Gilbert. Matsumi Mori is the accompanist for the group.

The practice is not just for fun. A previous Tremble Clefs performed the national anthem at Chase Field before an Arizona Diamondbacks game.

“Singing takes up more of your brain than any other activity,” Perkins says. “It’s a human fact, even math and science. And that’s why it’s so useful as a therapeutic tool. There is not a population that we don’t help for that reason.”

Tremble Clefs

WHEN: 10 a.m. the first and third Thursday of the month

WHERE: Sun Lakes United Methodist Church, 9248 E. Riggs Road, Sun Lakes

COST: $5; masks must be worn