Breast cancer survivors 'Sing to Live, Live to Sing'

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Oak Parker Suzanne Stegar is a musician and a breast cancer survivor. So when she heard about Sing to Live, Live To Sing Community Chorus, a new group for people whose lives have been touched by breast cancer, she knew it was perfect for her.

Stegar is one of 31 singers who have been gathering at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park every Thursday night since Sept. 15 for rehearsals. The chorus is directed by Wilbert Watkins, who also directs Pilgrim's Cancel Choir.

"The poetry of what we're doing is really stunning. It's very, very moving," says Stegar.

The chorus is the brainchild of Chicagoan Melinda Pollack. A breast cancer survivor, Pollack was researching support groups in the area and was surprised to find that none incorporated music. Undaunted, she decided to start her own group. A not-for-profit organization, Sing to Live, Live to Sing is designed, she says, to celebrate hope and survival, and eventually raise funds for local breast cancer patient advocacy programs and research projects.

"Music is such a healing activity," explains Pollack, who sings in the chorus and is president of its board of directors. "I thought it would be a great way to provide support."

The chorus is open to everyone, although it's targeted for those whose lives have been directly or indirectly affected by breast cancer. There are no costs beyond the cost of the music, and no auditions, so Pollack hopes to draw anyone who wants to sing and needs the creative outlet.

"If someone comes and can't sing, we'll find a place for them," she says.

Pollack enlisted Watkins after a recommendation from a chorus board member. Pollack had coincidentally heard him audition for a different choral directorship, so she contacted him immediately.

Pollack and her project was "exactly what I was looking for," recalls Watkins. "Someone with a personal passion." As his own life has been touched by breast cancer, he signed on.

Now in rehearsal for a debut concert on Nov. 15, the chorus is doing "extremely well," he enthuses. From the start, "as a musician, I was encouraged by their sound; as an educator, I was touched to see their enthusiasm to learn something new. I think it's going to be extremely successful," he says.

According to Pollack, the board of directors eventually hopes to expand the chorus into multiple groups with rehearsals in various locations that would come together to sing at a benefit concert. "Right now our main goal is to have a presence in the community, because this is our first concert in November," she says. "Then we'll plan for next year."

Stegar has found the musical focus of the group, rather than its support group trappings, to be just what she wanted. "It's a choir. It's a wonderful choir, but it's not a support group. But if you're a musician, and if you need to sing because it's part of who you are, then it gives you what you need," she says.

For Pollack, though, the primary purpose of the chorus will remain personal. "What we want to do is provide a sense of community for people that share similar experiences in regards to breast cancer. There's some that have just finished treatment, there's some that have lost family members to it," she explains. "It's not about cancer or death, it's about life."

Sing to Live, Live to Sing Community Chorus rehearses from 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday at Pilgrim Congregational Church. The group's first concert is planned for Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston. For more information, see the website at or call (773) 250-SING.

?#34;Katherine Galo

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