The St Christopher’s community choir started back in the spring of 2010. The idea was that the choir would sit within the Social Programme, offering a weekly spot for people to come together to sing. The choir is open to anyone and combines a mixture of patients, volunteers, staff, and bereaved family members together with the local community. During the first few weeks there were about 12 regular members and over the years the choir has slowly expanded and now we have well over 100 members (15 new members since January 2015).
This particular group of people coming together each week offer something unique and very special. The choir meets at the heart of St Christopher’s Hospice in the Anniversary Centre; and that is for a reason. Very often when we meet on Monday, patients and visiting family will come down to the centre from the wards to have some supper, listen to the choir and often join in. Our singing creeps up onto the wards, patients in beds can hear, and nurses often remark that they’ve heard the choir whilst working.
Everyone who joins the choir has a personal journey to the choir, everyone has been touched by St Christopher’s in some way and this brings something very particular to the music making. And making music together is such an ‘in the moment activity’ and for the brief span of a song a patient, nurse, bereaved relative or volunteer might be standing side by side, leaving aside their status, to sing together.
The choir has had its own highs and lows. We’ve had choir members who have become ill and died. Other members have struggled with illnesses. Recently a man joined us who lives in a local care home and we’ve had a referral from the speech and language department at King’s College Hospital. There have also been a couple of marriages; one couple who met through the bereavement support group and subsequently joined the choir, and one couple from within the choir itself. All life is there.
The fact that the choir welcomes in the local community is valuable. It offers the community an opportunity to think around death and dying within the hospice walls. It brings the ordinariness of daily life into the hospice. It also attracts some of the more isolated members of our local community into a place of warmth and friendship.
The choir is a rare mixture. At the time of the choir’s inception the Arts team was also involved in a St Christopher’s Schools Project. One of the primary school kids involved in this project asked to join the choir and she’s still with us, attending each week with her nana. There’s another grandmother who brings her two grandchildren.
There are many bereaved people – sons, widows, widowers, mothers, daughters – it’s not necessarily the fact that everyone shares their own stories but coming together to sing offers a place of comfort, a space to personally reflect, or perhaps just a time to live in the present and many of the friendship groups formed in the hospice now have a life beyond it.