Through a series of mini concerts, the Women of Note choir is singing for seniors and those in palliative care facilities, and bringing joy to everyone involved.
“Part of what makes me happy about music is how it makes other people feel,” says choir member Tracey Silagy.
“We can bring that [joy] to people, particularly those who are getting to that point in their lives when they don’t have a lot of opportunity to get out to hear concerts. Music does something special to us: it soothes us, it revitalizes us and invigorates us.”
Women of Note is a 70-member choir that performs a number of shows throughout the year. Last December, it offered Christmas Express concerts at Riverview Health Centre and Jocelyn House. In February, it organized a one-day Express tour with stops at Lion’s Place, Lion’s Manor and St. James Kiwanis Village, and has additional concerts scheduled in March.
“One of the important things to the members of the choir is to give back to the community, so over the past five or six years we have started what has become the Express program, where we go out into the community and perform small portions of our concerts,” explains Artistic Director Patricia Rabson.
“The looks on people’s faces, they just love it. They don’t know what to expect. We come in here, we’re a serious looking choir, and I know that my choir is very dynamic and they’re all women, and they’re all nurturing,” Ms. Rabson says.
Chris Edwards is a Geriatric Rehabilitation Unit Recreation Facilitator at Riverview Health Centre. He booked Women of Note’s December Express performance and knows the power music has on patients and the Riverview Health Centre community.
“I think one of the first things people think of when they think of Christmas is getting together as a group and food and music. I think that’s a wonderful Saturday afternoon program, getting us out of our rooms, being a bit of a community ourselves,” he says.
According to Mr. Edwards, music can transform patients.
“I’ll come to their room and I’ll say, ‘There’s a choir downstairs,’ and you’ll see them immediately perk up. You bring them down, you watch their head lift, there’s eye contact, and there’s foot tapping and there’s hand tapping. There’re singing along, and they know the words, they all flood back. You see the emotions seeping out of them. It’s wonderful for me to see and it’s nice for the choir to be able to bring that out of them.”
Women of Note was formed in 1994 by Ms. Rabson, who was looking for new challenges.
“Before I even really formalized my plan people were already calling me about it… and by that first rehearsal I had 63 people and I didn’t do any advertising, it was just word of mouth.”
Women of Note is an auditioned choir with three ensembles: the Choral, which consists of about 50 women with varying skill levels; the Chamber Singers, consisting of 24 experienced singers with more time to dedicate to rehearsal; and the Massed Choir, which is all the voices together.
“I joined women of note about six years ago, and I was looking for a place to sing because singing makes my heart happy,” Ms. Silagy says. “I found a really lovely and comfortable place to be in Women of Note. I find the repertoire to be a good mix between challenging and super enjoyable, and the ladies are a lot of fun. We really, really enjoy spending time together.”
At the Riverview performance, the audience was invited to join in and sing carols. Emily Yurchi is a patient in Riverview’s Geriatric Rehabilitation Unit.
“I’ve really enjoyed this program,” she says. “There are some carols I heard long, long ago but I haven’t heard them recently; it was a thrill to listen to.”
Following each performance, Women of Note spends time talking to attendees.
“We go out into the audience, and chat with people, and perform for them, and sing for them and you can see the joy on their faces. And the comments they make afterwards are just, it can make you cry, absolutely make you cry. And many of these people were in our shoes 30 years ago, doing this themselves and they deserve to have this kind of opportunity,” Ms. Rabson says.
Hear more about Women of Note on the River City 360 podcast.
This story is featured in the Winter 2017 edition of The Winnipeg Foundation’s Working Together magazine.