Trading scrubs for songbooks. Moncton health-care workers form hospital choir

Choir members donned scrub caps for a special performance of Rubber Duckie from Sesame Street for the kids in the audience. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC - image credit)
Choir members donned scrub caps for a special performance of Rubber Duckie from Sesame Street for the kids in the audience. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC - image credit)

At the centre of the Moncton Hospital's clinics on Wednesday afternoon, health-care workers paused.

On their way to deliver blood work, perform X-rays and care for patients, they stood together in a wide atrium and leaned over balconies, pulled from the hospital's usual, hurried routines.

Gathered at the doors were about 30 people who were singing, the acoustics of the wide hall carried their voices throughout the building.

It was the debut performance of Music in Medicine, a choir made up of their colleagues from all parts of the hospital, including housekeeping workers, managers, nurses, doctors and paramedicine students.

Directed by Melody Dobson, of the Greater Moncton Chorale, and accompanied on piano, they sang popular songs, including Lean on Me, Here Comes the Sun, Closer to Fine — even the Disney hit Surface Pressure from the film Encanto.

Melody Dobson said when rehearsals first began, choir members didn't know each other well. Now she sometimes struggles to get them to focus. 'I can hardly get them to stop yacking and get back to the singing because everybody’s enjoying each other’s company so much,' she said. 'It’s wonderful to see.'
Melody Dobson said when rehearsals first began, choir members didn't know each other well. Now she sometimes struggles to get them to focus. 'I can hardly get them to stop yacking and get back to the singing because everybody’s enjoying each other’s company so much,' she said. 'It’s wonderful to see.'

Melody Dobson said when rehearsals first began, choir members didn't know each other well. Now she sometimes struggles to get them to focus. 'I can hardly get them to stop yacking and get back to the singing because everybody’s enjoying each other’s company so much.' (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

Aside from choosing songs the audience would know, Dobson said she wanted pieces that had a clear theme.

"It's feel-good music, but a lot of it is upbeat and on the theme of helping one another or being happy doing something together — counting on someone, leaning on someone. Basically, fulfilling the role that health-care workers do," she said in an interview.

Lisa Searle, a family doctor at The Moncton Hospital, founded Music in Medicine at that facility after participating in a similar initiative at Dalhousie University during her medical training.
Lisa Searle, a family doctor at The Moncton Hospital, founded Music in Medicine at that facility after participating in a similar initiative at Dalhousie University during her medical training.

Lisa Searle, a family doctor at the Moncton Hospital, founded Music in Medicine after participating in a similar initiative at Dalhousie University during her medical training. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

The idea for the choir came from Lisa Searle, a family doctor who settled in New Brunswick after studying medicine at Dalhousie University.

When she thinks back to that time — perhaps one of the most stressful periods of her life — the choir she sang in with her fellow students and health-care workers stands out.

"It was a highlight. You could always feel, you know, not feeling great going into choir, and you'd walk out with a lighter heart, and it was just joyful," she said in an interview.

She first planned to pitch the choir at the end of 2019, but the pandemic took off before the idea could take hold. After watching how much her colleagues struggled throughout COVID-19, the time once again seemed right, and Searle sent out a call for interest.

Melody Dobson is the director of the Music in Medicine choir.
Melody Dobson is the director of the Music in Medicine choir.

Melody Dobson is the director of the Music in Medicine choir. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

The response surprised her.

"It was ding, ding, rapid fire in terms of 60, 70, 80 people at this hospital," she said, adding that included physicians, nursing staff, pharmacy, housekeeping and management.

Since starting rehearsals in January, Searle said choir members have bonded, and she's built relationships with people she otherwise would have just passed in the hallway.

Applause and cheering could be heard throughout the hospital during Music in Medicine's debut performance at The Moncton Hospital on Wednesday afternoon.
Applause and cheering could be heard throughout the hospital during Music in Medicine's debut performance at The Moncton Hospital on Wednesday afternoon.

Applause and cheering could be heard throughout the hospital during Music in Medicine's debut performance at the Moncton Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

The choir's flexibility is also a draw for busy health-care workers, Searle said.

"People do shifts, people are on call, there's people in our choir that get a page to go deliver a baby in the middle of our practice."

Dobson, too, has noticed how choir members have grown closer over the past several months, but she's also seen the impact it's had on their mental health.

Some sophisticated instruments were used during a performance of Rubber Duckie from Sesame Street.
Some sophisticated instruments were used during a performance of Rubber Duckie from Sesame Street.

Some sophisticated instruments were used during a performance of Rubber Duckie. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

"They deal with some pretty heavy stuff. They say whatever happens, this is the highlight of our week. We just come and we sing and we forget it all."

Wednesday was a chance for the Music in Medicine choir to get its feet wet, she said. She hopes there will be more performances, both for the community and hospital patients. Ideally, she said, the choir will join the larger ensemble of the Greater Moncton Chorale for its annual Christmas concert.

Daniel Thomas, a choir member, said he can't think of a better way to express his joy for music than by singing in the Music in Medicine choir. 'Being able to sing to patients, it heals you as well as it heals someone that listens to you singing,' he said.
Daniel Thomas, a choir member, said he can't think of a better way to express his joy for music than by singing in the Music in Medicine choir. 'Being able to sing to patients, it heals you as well as it heals someone that listens to you singing,' he said.

Choir member Daniel Thomas says he can't think of a better way to express his joy for music than by singing in this choir. 'Being able to sing to patients, it heals you as well as it heals someone that listens to you singing.' (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

Katherine Robertson, the manager of community and strategic initiatives for the Friends of the Moncton Hospital Foundation, said the organization provided some up-front funding to get the choir started, and that fundraising will be used in the future to keep the choir going.

But she emphasized the value of the Music in Medicine program.

The Music in Medicine choir at The Moncton Hospital is made up of health-care workers, from housekeeping and management to doctors and nurses.
The Music in Medicine choir at The Moncton Hospital is made up of health-care workers, from housekeeping and management to doctors and nurses.

The Music in Medicine choir at the Moncton Hospital is made up of health-care workers, including housekeeping and management employees as well as doctors and nurses. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

"What a perfect title, what a perfect name for this," she said. "Music, it crosses cultures. Creeds. Languages. Ages. It's universal. It's also healing, it's therapeutic."

"So we have music in medicine, but there's also medicine in the music."