During one of those inconvenient YouTube ads that pops up right before your video begins I saw something, or should I say someone, that caught my eye. Gareth Malone an English choirmaster, who I have seen on BBC programs like, The Choir, The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing, and The Choir: Unsung Town. I loved how he could transform the way people thought about music and singing, and in some cases even challenging stereotypes and gender norms, his shows were quite interesting. Malone in his own word has made it his life’s work “to get unlikely people singing.” This time he formed a choir of people who have difficulty breathing.
The video I watched is short, only about four minutes long, but from what I can see and what stories the choir members are telling these are people who are all affected by breathing difficulties in a variety of ways. While watching the video I thought about how breathing is not only something healthy people take for granted, but it is not something we think about seeing other people do. If you’re out of breath your chest moves up and down and sometimes your mouth hangs open while you gasp for air. People who mediate take long slow breaths in and then slowly exhales them out. But day to day general activities we aren’t necessarily taking note of how others are breathing.
When someone’s breathing is visibly impaired it becomes quite noticeable. Either because their breathing is labored and causing them to wheeze or cough, or because they require assistance breathing in some way, like an oxygen tank. In this “Breathless Choir” there are people of all different ages, but what struck me was how the older people I assumed made sense that they would be in there. Because as you age your body shuts down and it is not always easy to breathe the way that you used to. But the younger people, especially those who needed to have the oxygen tanks, stuck out to me. Younger people you always assume their youth equates to good health, or at least you assume a speedy recovery from whatever they are dealing with. Hearing Claire, the girl in the beginning of the video, talk about her medical journey through a coma and lung failure, and then also hear her talk about how she always wanted to be on stage performing, knowing that isn’t necessarily a possibility for her. I thought about how if it weren’t for her oxygen tubes I would never have assumed anything was wrong with her.
I thought about the “coming out” that disabled people go through, particularly when they have a disability that is not visible. Linking the general invisibility of breathing with these different choir members having to explain themselves on a daily basis. People can not always see that one of them has partial lung capacity, or chronic illness that effects their ability to get oxygen. People like Claire, who are young and appear to be in overall good health, but then have these tubes running from her face and all the way the length of her body, probably are treated differently or constantly asked about what the “problem” is. It would be utterly exhausting to have to constantly explain why you are carrying this around or why you have trouble completing certain tasks. Even thinking about how some people may see difficulty breathing as a medical issue but not necessarily a disability. Not wanting to view themselves, or have other people view them as unable to do for themselves.