There isn’t a lot of wiggle room in the schedule of a typical hospital staff member — long weeks, odd hours and stressful work situations can make it impossible to break away, even for basic necessities like lunch and rest.
With the demands of such a schedule, it might be hard to find time for volunteering, self-care or even a hobby. But that’s not true for the members of the Resounding Spirit Choir at Borgess Medical Center, who manage to make time for all three when they participate in the choir.
“In fact, when one of the altos changed over to the night shift and she was pulling three days of 12-hour shifts a week, she still made sure to schedule herself so she could come to choir,” recalls Jeffrey Spenner, the choir’s former director, who left in September to enter the U.S. Army officer candidate school in Georgia. “She gets off work, goes and grabs coffee, comes to choir and then goes home and crashes.”
The Resounding Spirit Choir, made up of 40 Borgess employees, practices every week, gives public performances and visits various departments to sing to staff and patients. Members of the choir will also visit specific patients on request. This month the choir has two public performances planned — the Tree of Love Kickoff at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 4 and the Borgess Health 125th Anniversary Mass at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 8. Both will be held at Borgess’ Lawrence Education Center Auditorium, 1521 Gull Road.
Even with their former director having left, the choir hasn’t missed a note. Its new director is Sister Sue McCrery, who is also the spiritual care specialist for Mission Integration at Borgess Health. She is now shepherding the choir through its third year of performing and says she’s focused on continuing to develop concerts, health ministry events, singing for patients and visitors and more.
“It’s an exciting piece of my job to be able to work in music,” says McCrery, who has a background in music education, with a degree from Nazareth College in music and education, and has served as the music director for the St. Thomas More Catholic Parish in Kalamazoo. “It’s been great to help these medical professionals keep their spirits up.”
Many choir members who don’t already sing to patients and visitors on the floor of the hospital told McCrery that they would like to gain the confidence to do so more spontaneously, as an act of service and support. McCrery plans to focus on helping them do just that. The choir put together its first flash mob performance in October, and McCrery is looking to expand the choir practice times so more Borgess employees can participate — a central purpose of the choir since the beginning.
“Our members are doctors and nurses who have very difficult jobs, and they come in week in and week out to rehearse. I can see it on their faces when they sing — they are rejuvenated through the process of learning music,” says Spenner, the former director.
When the choir started, it had fewer than a dozen members and the music was centered on holiday carols sung in unison. Now the choir is working on five-part madrigals and pieces by Mozart and Bach, and McCrery says she plans to add more musical styles to the repertoire and to ask instrumental musicians to join the group as well.
“I think it’s unique that a workplace like this would have a choir,” she says. “It really speaks to the fact that Borgess knows music heals.”
The popularity of the choir, both among the professionals who work at Borgess and with the public, is evidence of the very healing power of music that McCrery’s talking about. It’s why, even with busy schedules and stressful jobs, Borgess employees keep coming back.
“Dr. Robert Hill, the founder of this choir and the vice president of medical affairs at Borgess, not to mention one our finest tenors, pulled me aside one day last year and said, ‘You know, it amazes me that people keep showing up for this,’” says Spenner. “And I told him that, in and of itself, speaks to how dedicated these people are and how important the choir really is.”