Playing the piano offers relief from Parkinson's

Brighton Festival Chorus conductor James Morgan unites with his partner Juliette Pochin for an album of Christmas piano duets on Warner Music – partly James’ therapy in his battle against young onset Parkinson's.

Brighton Festival Chorus conductor James Morgan unites with his partner Juliette Pochin
Brighton Festival Chorus conductor James Morgan unites with his partner Juliette Pochin

Performing together as Piano Hands, they have called the album Christmas Piano. It comes promised as perfect for when you need a break from “all the high-energy stuff” at Christmas. Their first release as a piano duo, the recording showcases their own interpretations of the most popular Christmas songs and carols.

As James explains: “I partly play the piano as therapy to prolong the function of my hands, and we’ve arranged all the pieces as a duet so we can control how many notes I have to play and so Juliette can step in and cover me should my Parkinson's intervene.

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“I found that when I started playing the piano, it certainly helped. I would not say that it is reversing it, but it has improved things for now.

“It definitely seems to improve things a bit.

“There is not a lot of research that has gone into Parkinson's and playing the piano, but playing has given me some more movement.

“I have had Parkinson's for seven years now. I am 50. Parkinson's is still one of the great mysteries.

“No one really knows how it starts or why. I am sure if they could discover that, it would help them find a cure, but there are various theories that knock around.

“I am a very, very irritatingly stubborn person.

“If I get told that I can’t do something, it makes me all the more determined to do it, which has often got me into trouble! But in this case it is really quite useful.”

For the duets, the key is that they have arranged the pieces so that Juliette can take over if need be: “Piano Hands is a simple concept – compositions and new interpretations of well-known popular and classical pieces, all written for piano duet and creating a sound world of relaxing and atmospheric calm, perfect for meditation and mindfulness.

“These are all well-known pieces like O Come All Ye Faithful and Jingle Bells right up to contemporary things like Maria Carey and The Pogues, but they are all given a gentle, intimate feel.

“When you have had your fill of noisy Slade, you can put this on. When Aunty Nora has finally gone home, if she ever does, you can turn down the lights, get a glass of wine, sit back and listen.”

The mindfulness aspect is important: “Mindfulness is something I have looked into quite a lot because I have found it useful for Parkinson's. For me, it is an important part of therapy, and this is mindful music in that more gentle, quiet, relaxed, intimate way.”

Parkinson's is a condition which has to be managed: “It is a degenerative condition, so by definition it gets worse as time goes on. But as time progresses, you have to think of different ways to counteract it if you can, and in my case playing the piano seems to be a good way of keeping the dexterity for as long as I can.”

Available on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon etc.