'He sings You are My Sunshine to me': Music therapy helps Sask. singer find voice after stroke

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'He sings You are My Sunshine to me': Music therapy helps Sask. singer find voice after stroke

'He sings You are My Sunshine to me': Music therapy helps Sask. singer find voice after stroke

Irvin Driedger was a church choir leader in Osler, Sask. for 25 years and a member of the Saskatoon men's chorus — and then one day, after a night of singing with family, he lost his voice.

"It was five o'clock in the morning and he was faltering," said Irvin's wife of 52 years, Donna Driedger.

"He couldn't speak and I said 'Come honey, let's lie down and I'll call the front desk,'" she recalled. 

"I said 'Call an ambulance, my husband's having a stroke.'"

Irvin came from a singing family and raised his own children the same way. After the stroke, Irvin could only move his eyes. Donna said there was so much paralysis within his vocal cords, he couldn't make a sound.

Continuing a life of music

Knowing how much Irvin loved music, Donna has sung to him every night.

"I know he heard me because he would pinch my leg when I didn't do it right," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

A year after the stroke, Donna enrolled Irvin in music therapy sessions with Leanne Hoeft in Saskatoon.

Hoeft concentrates on areas of difficulty such as volume and breath control, as well as clear enunciation and developing longer phrases.

"Singing has been really great for him for that, because it incorporates all those things at the same time," Hoeft said.

"And since it's been part of his life for so long it's something that is fun for him to do, it is not stressful for him, it's just an enjoyable way to practise the skills."

A serenade before bed

Although Irvin still has trouble speaking, Donna said he has found his tenor voice again and mostly hits the right pitch.

She said she was grateful for Hoeft's work and expertise, adding that the music therapy has made life more enjoyable for her and Irvin.

Now that Irvin has regained the use of his singing voice and can sing full songs, he returns the favour of singing for Donna every night before bed.

"He'll get up off the couch to go upstairs to bed and he stops and he sings 'You are My Sunshine' to me," she said.