“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” Leonard Bernstein
We all know music’s ability to heal and sooth. We know how it comforts the ill and the despondent. Music can help both the dying on their trip “home” and the woman giving birth as she brings new life into the world. It teaches children the alphabet. It helps us remember conjunctions or elements or state capitals.Singing together in a chorus promotes teamwork and unity, but did you realize it can do more?
Jeff*directs a middle school chorus in one of the best school districts in his state. His only complaint when he first began in the district? The kids seemed to have a sense of entitlement. But this is no longer the case, for the most part. How it came about is a bit of a “Holiday Miracle.”
When he first began his present position, Jeff believed the district fostered his students’ selfish attitude. It was the first time he had worked with middle school kids, but soon realized it was being 11 or 12 or 13 causing them to act so self-centered. At the heart of it, these were lovely kids. But often they seemed so selfish, he could hardly stand them. After his first chorus parents meeting, he realized many of their PARENTS felt the same way!
During the first year he had the position; Jeff struggled with ways to get his students to think of others. They participated in the school sponsored food drive, and then wasted food in the cafeteria. The choral parents group collected gently used winter coats for the local homeless shelter during the winter holiday concert, and the kids took for granted having trendy clothes and the latest expensive gym shoes. They were part of a school-wide “Secret Santa”program for the elementary school special ed program, and then were awful to each other. They were that dichotomy of the Pre-teen; unselfish and terrible.
The second year Jeff was in the district, one of his students, Jamie*, was hospitalized. He had a chronic pediatric disease and while he did well most of time, the year he began seventh grade, Jamie needed to spend the first three months of school in the hospital. Jeff got reports from his tutor and his mother on a weekly basis but didn’t know what to do with the information.
One October afternoon after school, Jeff got a visit in his office from Mrs.McCann*, the mom of Jamie’s best friend. Her son wasn’t in chorus, but Jeff did know her from the PTA. And he knew her boy was a friend of Jamie’s. Mrs. McCann reported to Jeff the one thing Jamie missed the most by being in the hospital was chorus. She wondered if there was some way the chorus could visit him and offered to help make it happen.
Jeff spoke to his choral parents group at their October meeting about a field trip to the children’s hospital. They decided the best time to do it was the Saturday afternoon after their Friday night winter holiday concert. After consulting with Jamie’s Mom, only a part of the chorus would be able to participate. And only those who showed no signs of coughs or colds could come.They would sing in the large play room for any child-patient who was able. Mrs.McCann handled all the arrangements with the school district and hospital, both of whom thought it was a wonderful idea.
Performing for children in a hospital setting may not seem like a good fit for a middle school chorus, but it was. That first time, Jeff’s students were stunned seeing children who could be (and were, in Jamie’s case) their classmates pulling IVs around or using canes or wheelchairs or having discolored skin or bandages or were disabled in some way. It seemed to strike a chord with the kids and they sang their hearts out for them!
It has been five years since Jeff’s choruses began singing at the children’s hospital on a regular basis. They sing twice a year; the Saturdays after their winter holiday concerts and their spring concerts. Only a portion of the whole chorus can sing due to space considerations. Twice they’ve sung more than once so every chorus member who wants to can have a chance to participate. They have a toy drive for the hospital during their winter holiday concert. They have a pajama drive during their spring concert. Jamie is a freshman in college and is doing very well, health-wise. He helps out when he is able with the hospital concerts because he knows how much it means to the patients.
It has been a Win/Win situation for the hospital and school district who are both delighted with this arrangement. These are good kids, doing good for other kids. Jeff couldn’t be prouder!