In a striking example of the healing power of music, English National Opera (ENO) and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have launched a nationwide scheme using singing to aid long-term Covid-19 rehabilitation.
The ENO Breathe programme is the result of a six-week pilot scheme between September and November 2020, involving a dozen patients between their 30s and 70s and from diverse backgrounds. The programme started using lullabies as its musical starting point, using their natural calming melodies and cross-cultural appeal to ease patients into the exercises.
Led by professional singing specialists, participants learned breathing and singing exercises familiar to opera singers, using emotional connection and imagery, rather than physiological instruction. Online resources then helped to the participants to practise in their own time.
The results proved impressive. ‘ENO Breathe certainly supported me in the longer term recovery’, said participant Colette Elizabeth. ‘That’s where I’ve seen the most improvement, because I know that my breath control is better. I know that and my posture is better. I can go into meetings. I can certainly get my point across a lot better without suffocating on each breath.’
Her comments were borne out by independent evaluation commissioned by ENO, which reported marked improvement in health and wellbeing. So the programme is now being rolled out to 1000 patients of hospitals in Cheshire, Merseyside, Newcastle upon Tyne, Manchester and London.
‘Medicine and the Arts have come to understand that they have more in common than they knew,’ said ENO Chair Harry Brunjes. ‘ENO Breathe, this astonishing project led by Jenny Mollica, is the unprecedented interface of the ‘Art of Medicine’ and the ‘Science of the Arts’. I am also extremely grateful to fellow ENO Board member, Professor Ajit Lalvani, who along with Dr Sarah Elkin, his colleague at Imperial, has been incredibly supportive of this momentous project.’