During the dark, early days of the pandemic, Dr Sarah Freedman’s mood was as grey as a Vancouver rain.
“It was a really heavy time and I felt as if I needed joy in my life,” said Dr Freedman, a Vancouver-based pediatrician. “I watched videos of the Toronto and Calgary physicians’ choirs online and thought, ‘That looks like fun.’”
Turning to social media, Dr Freedman posted a short note to her Facebook group, expressing a lament that Vancouver didn’t have a physicians’ choir. The feedback was immediate and Vox Panacea was born.
Aptly named for the Greek goddess of healing, Vox Panacea has become ground zero for the mental health and wellness of a group of 35 physicians whose alto and soprano voices meld once-weekly to sing away the stresses of life, family and the practice of medicine during the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19.
“This is medicine for us,” said Dr Freedman of the group whose 35 members are spread across Southwestern BC and into Alberta and Saskatchewan. “It’s not just about singing, it’s about how music heals.”
But forming a virtual choir in times of COVID-19 was anything but simple. “There was a lot of interest in a choir, but it became a matter of figuring out how to support that interest,” Dr Freedman said.
Enter Dr Carolyn Shiau, an experienced chorister, and pathologist at Royal Columbian Hospital, and Dr. Nicholle Andrews, Vancouver Phoenix Chamber Choir’s artistic director. Dr Freedman credits both for helping to launch Vox Panacea through July and August with choral director Pippa Andrew taking over in September.
Andrew has been working with the singing physicians ever since, via weekly rehearsals on Zoom; a communication platform that is as useful for conducting meetings as it is online choirs.
“Being able to make music from home and online during the pandemic has made the choir accessible to members from all over,” said Andrew. “That’s the silver lining.”
For Dr Freedman, the benefits of Vox Panacea have been many.
Releasing herself into the joy of music once-weekly takes her away from the everyday realities of COVID-19, and from being a busy physician and mother. Singing alone -- yet with others -- transports her to a different place where she can connect with colleagues musically through songs ranging from Bob Marley hits to riffs on Disney classics.
Despite challenges posed by COVID-19 to singing together, technology has introduced the wonders of portability and flexibility into each remote rehearsal with members joining from home, from kids’ soccer games and from hospital call rooms.
And that’s the biggest joy of all.
“This pandemic has been really isolating, but the blessing through all this has been that we’ve found a connection to each other through the love of music.”
Vox Panacea and Phoenix Chamber Choir sing Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” .