By Maria Wiering
Strains of “The First Noel” floated through the hallways of Mercy Medical Center’s critical care floor Dec. 8 as a choir composed of Mercy staff, former patients and members of the Maryland State Boychoir walked the Baltimore hospital’s corridors, harmonizing classic carols in four-parts.
The carolers intended to spread Christmas cheer to staff and patients, whose health can improve through exposure to music, said Dr. Kathy Helzlsouer, who organized the event.
The carolers were members of the Healing Power of Music Chorus, which gives an annual springtime concert benefitting the Boychoir and the Cancer Recovery Program at Mercy’s Prevention and Research Center, which Helzlsouer directs. This is the second year the chorus has caroled at Mercy.
Donning a Santa hat, Stephen Holmes, the Boychoir’s artistic director, hummed a starting pitch as the chorus launched into “Joy to the World.” The event drew about 30 choristers of all ages, most wearing red and green with festive accessories. Marge Shawl, 71, wore a headband with radiating plush Christmas lights.
“This is like giving a day of my life to bring happiness,” said Shawl, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Highlandtown, and cancer survivor who was treated at Mercy.
Three years ago, Helzlsouer collaborated with Holmes to start the Healing Power of Music Chorus. Membership spread by word-of-mouth, attracting singers with varying abilities. Some, like Helzlsouer, love to sing and have a son in the Boychoir. A tireless promoter of the choir, Helzlsouer has encouraged colleagues and patients to join as well.
A parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul, Baltimore, Helzlsouer said she is “a firm believer in the help that music can give.”
“It’s relaxation, but there are also health benefits that we are learning more and more about,” she said, listing music’s ability to lower blood pressure and soothe breathing difficulties.
Holmes, who also directs the Notre Dame of Maryland University’s concert choir, said the chorus decided to carol at Mercy “because (Christmas) is such a lonely time to be in a hospital. No one wants to be away from family.”
Helzlsouer’s son, Luc Renaux, 14, sang with fellow boychorister Dan O’Neill, 16. Both said caroling put them in the Christmas sprit.
“Singing at nursing homes and hospitals is one of the most rewarding aspects of Boychoir,” said O’Neill, a junior at Loyola Blakefield in Towson. “You can really see on the faces of the people there that they really appreciate what you’re doing.”
“It’s nice to give joy to people,” Renaux added.
Kelly Phair’s soprano voice joined the harmony as the choir walked from floor to floor, sometimes stopping near a nurse’s station for a full song or two. A music therapy student at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., who attends St. Ursula, Parkville, and volunteers at Mercy, Phair, 22, said music “meets people where they’re at” and improves people’s quality of life.
“It can help emotionally, spiritually, physically,” she said. “It depends on the patient and what the needs are.”
Registered nurse Muibat Sonni said she was surprised to hear music in Mercy’s halls.
“It makes us be aware of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, the joy of the season and of the sick,” she said.
On Sonni’s floor, JoAnn McVey, 79, was being treated for diabetes complications. She added her alto voice to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” as the carolers passed her room. The Christmas music lifted her spirit, she said.
“After awhile in here, you start to feel so away from everything,” she said. “I think more hospitals should add (caroling) to their routine.”
The Healing Power of Music Chorus will give a concert benefitting the Cancer Recovery Program of The Prevention and Research Center at Mercy Medical Center and the Maryland State Boychoir May 5 at 2:30 p.m. For more information, visit hpmbaltimore.org.
Copyright (c) Dec. 14, 2012 CatholicReview.org