When a doctor approached University of Redlands Director of Choral Studies Nicholle Andrews with the idea of forming a choral ensemble of physicians in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrews decided to give it a shot. Now, nearly a year after that initial conversation, more than 230 singers have joined the Canadian National Physicians Choir, and the group has received cross-country praise for its recent cover of Great Big Sea’s hit song, “Ordinary Day.”
The artistic director of Vancouver-based Phoenix Chamber Choir, Andrews has had a busy year of facilitating online rehearsals and engineering virtual performances. But it was this work with the Vancouver based physicians choir that initially encouraged her to learn how to conduct and engineer performances digitally.
“Last summer, 55 physicians registered to sing in Vox Panacea, a new doctor’s choir that is now a permanent fixture underneath the Phoenix Chamber Choir umbrella,” she says. “But word spread across the country, and we were asked to help facilitate a national physicians choir. The Canadian National Physicians Choir had two online rehearsals for ‘Ordinary Day’ before we began to create the video.”
The group gives medical personnel a creative outlet and a chance to momentarily set aside the stress of their personal and professional lives. In the video, which was made in support of the Dollar A Day Foundation and has amassed more than 75,000 views on YouTube, some participants sing alongside their children, coworkers, and family members. Others are still dressed in scrubs, likely singing from their offices in hospitals. Some of the singers even attended medical school together, and their video clips appear next to each other in the grand performance in quiet acknowledgment of the connection.
Similarly, there is a deeper meaning to why the group chose to sing that particular tune in support of a foundation that raises awareness of mental health care. “One of the physicians reached out to me and asked if the group could sing ‘Ordinary Day,’ which was the pub tune that brought a lot of them back to their med school days,” says Andrews. “It’s a song they know well, but also tells the story of the struggle.”
There’s an obvious link between medical personnel, who have been working continuously to combat the devastation of the coronavirus, and the importance of mental health. The Dollar A Day Foundation exists to raise funds to close the gap between those in need and available programs for mental health and addiction. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation created a relief fund to support mental health care for frontline workers and first responders. Alan Doyle, the lead singer of Great Big Sea and cofounder of the Dollar a Day Foundation, appears in the video for the song’s final verse, which was a surprise for the physicians.
In addition to providing an outlet to doctors, Andrews knows that these performances are important for viewers as well. One of those viewers turned out to be Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who retweeted the video, adding: “There’s nothing ‘ordinary’ about this video. It’s pretty extraordinary. Thank you all for getting creative and finding new ways to share your talents with us—and thank you, as always, for the great work you do every single day.”
For Andrews, creating these moments of happiness and putting a smile on a stranger’s face is the reason she wanted to be a choral director in the first place. “I don’t perform or teach for myself, whether it’s with Phoenix Chamber Choir or the University of Redlands,” she says. “Music is an outlet for so many, whether you’re creating it or listening to it. Without music, there would be a huge void in our lives.”
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