By Deborah Singerman
Deborah Singerman is a writer and carer of one of our patients. She’s written a lovely reflection on the meaning singing in the Lifehouse choir has for her.
I recently sang at my first carol singing concert for years. I was raised Jewish and although I no longer practise, I still fondly remember the robust family togetherness over harmonies and the never-ending repetitive choruses in which Passover songs excel.
Yet my memories of carol singing are stronger. Unfortunately, they peter out at the end of school. I went to a university where librarians outnumbered the student sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. It was not the thing for budding economists and political scientists in the 1970s to sing in what could well be seen as a bourgeois pastime.
For the next three decades choral singing was an ancient memory, that is until my wife’s breast cancer (and many times thankful recovery). The hospital she went to has a choir, open to all-comers (mainly patients, carers and friends). I joined and re-invigorated by mezzo soprano.
I still go. The experience and richness of tones varies within the choir but the enthusiasm and poignancy is universal. There are no auditions. Such selection would go against the grain of this wholly democratic group and the more I learn about the pianist, conductor and ebullient leader at these sessions, I realise that he reaches church and synagogue choirs as well (and most likely more).
I have learned the power of memory – the melodies came flooding back to me though I had not sung the Oh come all ye faithfuls, Silent nights and Rudolf the red nosed reindeers for a very long time other than fleetingly at shopping centres. I also learned the reach of unadulterated, authentic good cheer. I told a shy woman, who had been cajoled into singing a solo, that her mellifluous soprano soothed me. She glowed. “Thank you. I was so nervous.” Well, she certainly made my day, and that of several others, I guess.
The choir sings in the lobby of the large cancer hospital and, as you might expect, the passing crowd is a mix of all levels of health and wellbeing. There are shuffles, headscarves, walking frames and stooped gaits. There are also cheerful smiles of recognition showing such delight that people are still active and dealing with their various treatments. This is community in action.
We sang from Jingle Bells to Silent Night, Hallelujah to Summer Wonderland, a wonderful rewrite of the Winter one and so necessary as all the snow allusions amid our ferocious bushfires jar. For some reason tears continually pricked my eyes this happy carol singing day, but they were tears of joy and hope, not of sadness.
How do daily interactions fare
I thank baristas for coffee that uplifts, sustains and tastes great. I smile at and, when time, chat to, shop assistants (particularly at my local pharmacy) especially when their service is efficient and friendly. One good turn deserves another, I reckon. I like to press lift buttons at stations especially when people have their hands full of shopping bags or suitcases or prams. I thank station guards when they give me good directions, face-to-face minus a GPS.
No angel, I also swear profusely at hoggers of texts and messaging who walk slowly without watching where they are going. Likewise, bicyclists with their safety helmets securely in place, who skid past a bare-headed me at breakneck speed without noticing I am there. I also get scared when I have to avoid prams pushed by people whose eyes are not taking in my presence (or that of others around me) at all. (I have diabetes and cuts and bruises can take ages to heal.)
My daily community living is all about keeping my ears and eyes open and paying attention to other people. So far, I have not had to resort to a timbred scream or shout of rebuke, but I am sure as my diaphragm strength and breathing improve with more singing, I will not be afraid to loudly hold my ground.