Violinist Sali-Wyn Ryan and David Loft
(c) Andy Commins

Stroke survivor David Loft found new purpose and joy in life through music therapy with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's Strokestra programme.

8 July 2023, Sunday Express

When David Loft suffered two strokes in just 18 months he thought his life was all but over.

But despite being left hard of hearing and 60 percent blind, musical therapy with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has given the 67-year-old “something to look forward to – something to aim for”.

Strokestra brings together stroke survivors and world-class professional musicians.

They take part in a range of activities to maximise the social, emotional, cognitive, physical and communication benefits of music.

Organised through the RPO and Hull & East Riding Community Stroke Services, it was piloted in 2015.

Although it is not a clinical programme, the pilot showed 86 percent of patients experienced some relief of disability symptoms, citing improved sleeping, reduced anxiety, fewer dizzy spells and reduced epilepsy symptoms.

Meanwhile, 91 percent saw social benefits such as improved relationships and communication skills; and 86 percent said that they experienced emotional benefits like increased confidence.

David said: “When you have a stroke you feel dead, really. It turns your life upside down.

“I used to go to the gym at least twice a week, I had a busy job and we used to go for walks as a family. I would never sit still. I was always out and about. Everything stopped.”

With the support of his wife Marie, 66, David signed up for the Strokestra programme in Hull.

He said: “When you have the chance to do some music it gives you something to aim for. If it wasn’t for that I would be sat about.

“We play instruments but we’re in a group, which is a great feeling for people in my situation. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of enjoyment.

“We’re not musicians, we can’t read music. It’s a case of strumming and tapping along. I get such a buzz – I feel like I haven’t had a stroke.”

Strokestra holds a group percussion session  (c) Andy Commins

Strokestra volunteer and RPO violinist Sali-Wyn Ryan, 45, said: “You can see the day-to-day benefits, the cognitive benefits for people.

“You notice the little, and sometimes big, changes. There are physical benefits too – people are doing things they didn’t realise they could.”

Josh Cirtina, a 28-year-old bass trombone player with the RPO, added: “It is an incredible thing to be a part of. A lot of musicians at the RPO are desperate to be involved – there is a waiting list.

“It is amazing to see the way music can change people.”

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