Association of Canadian Choral Condutors

Association of Canadian Choral Condutors

Friday, November 30, 2012

Crossroads Singers: A Transformative Experience

In 1998, Dr. Marilyn Hundleby added a choral program to the range of art therapies within the Arts in Medicine Program (AIM) at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. Dr. Hundleby believed that the physiological, psychological and spiritual aspects of singing in a choir would benefit those who were journeying through the unfamiliar and frightening experience of cancer. As with other art therapies in the AIM program, the choir was open to patients, their supporters, and health care providers – anyone who had been touched by cancer in any way. The choir, which welcomes all voices, is directed and accompanied by Beth MacIntosh. Regular Wednesday afternoon practices prepare the group to extend its message of hope and “Gift of Song” to the community, and twice a year, in the spring and during the Christmas season, the group performs concerts in extended care facilities, hospitals and retirement centres.

As we all well know, the accelerating costs of health care have necessitated many hard choices, and the clinical research to support the effectiveness of adjunctive art-based therapies is easily outweighed by that of traditional interventions like radiation and chemo. So it was a shock, though not a complete surprise, to be told that our choral singing program was being discontinued.
Thankfully, the members that comprise the group are very familiar with adversity and the power of a proactive mind-set, so it wasn’t long before we recognized the opportunity within this turn of events.  As part of the Cross Cancer Institute, we had been bound by the bureaucracy of the provincial health care industry – messaging to support recruitment and sponsorship had been carefully controlled, and possible liabilities associated with public performances had made management very nervous. Now we would be free to reach out to the community and become a much more effective resource for anyone who had been touched by any aspect of the cancer experience.

After agreeing on our goals:

  • To find a practice space
  • To find sponsorship to underwrite our relatively small operational budget
  • To create awareness through media and social networks
  • To double our size within the next year
we got busy…

So far, the experience of having to re-invent our choir has exceeded our expectations, and re-invigorated our membership. We found our first champion within the Alberta Choral Federation.  Brendan Lord was touched by our plight, and facilitated an introduction to his friend, Susan Farrell, at St. Paul’s United Church. Susan has created several choirs from individuals with unique backgrounds, and she has proposed a wonderful arrangement that will easily make it our home as well. St. Paul’s is close enough to the Cross Cancer Institute to make it convenient for out-of-town patients, who often drop in for the duration of their multi-week treatment. We have also been given the opportunity to join Wellspring Edmonton as a standing program within their cancer support and wellness centre, once it is operational, which will enable us to offer tax receipts to donors.

And now we have the opportunity to reach out through the Association of Canadian Choral Communities’ network as well, for which we are very grateful. 

Our life experiences have made philosophers of us all.  We have no idea where we will find the membership we seek, or the financial support we need, but we know that it’s all out there, waiting to be discovered.  Just as the cancer journey was a group effort for each of us, the act of singing with a group -- blending our voices to create one multi-dimensional sound -- has been a soul-stirring and transformative one. We hope that we are able to present this opportunity to others struggling to find a way to live well beyond cancer.

We would welcome your ideas and feedback!
Donna James
Crossroad Singers

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