At first, the Borgess Resounding Spirit Choir might seem a little unorganized. Choir members are constantly getting up to answer pagers and phones. There are days when some of them come in late and days when some can’t come at all. Choir director Jeffrey Spenner says it took some getting used to.
“I’m conducting doctors and nurses and they have other things that they can and should be thinking about at times," he says. "So now, it’s to the point where I hardly even notice if someone gets up and leaves because of what they do or a pager going off or a phone going off.”
Dr. Robert Hill revived the choir about a year and a half ago, after reading an article on the healing power of music. Just a few weeks later, the choir sang Christmas carols on the floors of the hospital. Allison Grigg, a nurse in the emergency department, recalls singing to new mothers.
“Something that day just touched me so much about being on the labor and delivery unit and singing to these brand new mothers and these brand new human beings, that I just lost it," says Allison Grigg, a nurse in the emergency department. "And had to go in the bathroom because I was crying. And it was embarrassing and fun and something I’ll always remember.”
“What had happened was this young mother had recorded us on her iPhone, a little video of the choir. And Allison, through sobs and tears, said ‘We just gave that baby its first Christmas present,’” Spenner adds. “And that was an incredibly powerful moment. And one of those reaffirming moments in my life as to, ‘Ok. This is why I do what I do.’”
Despite the chaos of hospital life, Spenner says the choir has come a long way. Mike Smith is in marketing and communications at Borgess. He says he feels like everyone is learning so much in such a short time.
Before joining the choir, many members didn’t have a musical background or hadn’t made music in decades. Smith was a percussionist for several years, but he never thought himself a singer.
“I think some of us are learning voices that we never knew we had before," he says. "I hear it all the time every rehearsal. And the voices—it comes out in people. They didn’t know that they had a voice. They didn’t know they could sing. And low and behold, here they are singing.”
Spenner says members of the choir work hard to arrange their schedules so they don’t miss practice. Two weeks ago, Allison Grigg shuffled in with a cup of coffee after working a 12 hour shift. And some Borgess employees still come to sing with the choir after retirement.
Spenner says there’s a reason the choir is so dedicated. The music doesn’t just have a healing effect on patients, it also comforts the people who look after them.
“I remember one rehearsal where two of our nurses came in a little bit early and they were talking about patients that were not going to make it. And I could see that it was weighing really heavily on their hearts,” says Spenner.
But something changed once they left rehearsal for the song "Lean On Me."
“These same two nurses went out humming “Lean On Me” with smiles on their faces. And I could tell that for them this experience was as much about healing as what they were doing for their own patients,” says Spenner.