Yesterday I attended the opening concert of the sixth season of SING TO LIVE at Pilgrim Church, and it was amazing. SING TO LIVE is a community chorus made up of approximately 70 singers whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. Some are breast cancer survivors themselves, many have struggled with family and friends who have been diagnosed with this horrifying disease. The story of how this remarkable group of singers came to be (and which I have retold a thousand times in the past five years) is awesome and inspiring.
A young woman named Melinda Pollack-Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer. After fighting all the battles of chemo and radiation, Melinda began to search for the post treatment support that many cancer survivors seek. There are many choices out there – some people run, some knit, but Melinda realized that what would be the most supportive and healing activity for her was to sing with other people. She couldn’t find a source that offered this interactive opportunity, so she put together a board and started her own chorus.
Then comes the part of the story that I call the “woo-woo” moment. The chorus needed a director. That director would not only have to have the musical experience, but would need a sensitivity to the particular mission of this particular group of singers. One of the board members suggested they interview Wilber O. Watkins, an extensively experienced choral director. So they did, and a whole chorus and a choral director fell in love and did he have the requisite sensitivity? How’s this for karma? Wilber’s “twin” sister is a breast cancer survivor.
However, the most wonderful story and the loftiest goals does not an accomplished chorus make. I sang for 15 years or so, back in the dark ages, with a chorus that is now about 150 years old. It takes many years for a chorus to “jell”. What this group of singers has accomplished in a short five years is absolutely remarkable. Credit for this achievement certainly must go in large part to director Watkins‘ skills in music weaving, but what happens with these singers goes far beyond what is tangible. They have a bond with each other and with their audience that, in my mind, qualifies as magical.
I can talk about SING TO LIVE forever, but I urge everyone to experience this bond for themselves. You can read all about them on their website singtolive.org. Their next performance in Oak Park will be in March 2011, and I’ll be sure to remind you.