A Chorus Heals through Song

As Robert Browning wrote in 1871, “Who hears music, feels his solitude / Peopled at once.” The making of music is most often a communal activity, bringing people together either to perform or to listen.    

Rising Voices MSK chorus

Music therapy has been recognized as extremely beneficial for people with cancer. Singing in the company of others can be especially therapeutic. The Rising Voices chorus, sponsored by Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Integrative Medicine Service and The Society of MSK, gives cancer survivors, current patients, and caregivers a unique opportunity to make music and share the gift of song.

No Experience Required

Rising Voices is MSK’s chapter of Something to Sing About, a global network of choirs dedicated to supporting cancer survivors. Founded in Ireland in 2012, Something to Sing About now has approximately 250 members worldwide. Rising Voices, which totals about 50 members, meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from September through June.
"No auditions or professional music experience are required,” says director Kenneth Joel Ginn. “All that’s necessary is a love of music and singing.” Joel (who goes by his middle name) is a theater performer, cabaret artist, and administrative assistant in MSK’s Department of Medical Graphics. “Our repertoire is quite broad. We do everything from contemporary pop to the Great American Songbook to holiday tunes and the Beatles.”   

Joel lost one of his two brothers, Keith, to cancer. “Keith was an amazing performer and musician,” Joel says. “I love making music and working with singers. My involvement in Rising Voices is a way to give back and to honor my brother’s memory.”

A Singer Speaks

Susan Shaw, a cervical cancer survivor, has been a member of Rising Voices for approximately a year. “The camaraderie of the group is fantastic,” she says. “I don’t have a great voice, but I love to sing and everyone is so kind and welcoming. We all put our hearts into it.”

She observes that members derive strength from one another and that even the types of music they work on draws them closer. “In addition to songs from all over the world, we do rounds and other multipart singing, which is not easy,” Susan explains. “You really have to listen, pay attention, and collaborate with your fellow singers.”

She also points out that Rising Voices members make connections that evolve beyond the regular group meetings. “People have gotten together to go to the theater and enjoy other activities,” she says. “And last year when we learned our former director was retiring we arranged a potluck dinner for everyone, which was just lovely.”

Taking Time

Susan says there are two songs that provide a distillation of what Rising Voices means to her. The first is called “Take Time in Life.” Its refrain: “You’ve got to take time in life / We’ve got a far way to go.” The other is “When Joy Comes Back to Me.”

“The most important thing for a cancer survivor is to be able to move forward in life without fear,” she says. “This is a hard feeling to recapture after you’ve had a serious illness and these songs speak to me of looking ahead, moving on, and healing.”

“Singing helps your soul,” Joel concludes. “My ultimate goal is that everyone should leave our sessions in a better mood and with a higher, lighter spirit than when they came in.”

Susan concurs: “Singing with others absolutely raises your spirits. When you leave, you feel right with the world. It’s also just wonderful fun!”

In the spring of 2015, Rising Voices performed in the lobby of MSK’s Bendheim Integrative Medicine Center.  Joel plans to have the group perform in the late spring of 2016 in the Patient Recreation Center at Memorial Hospital.

Discover more about music and music therapy at MSK.