MIDDLETOWN — When a nurse in a power suit, wielding a briefcase marched into the administrative offices of Middlesex Hospital with the goal of getting support in starting a vocal group, who could have predicted the outcome?
That was 30 years ago and not only did the hospital support the idea, the Middlesex Hospital Vocal Chords have enjoyed success that lasts to this day.
“This is before (the American Medical Association) came out with a study on the medicinal use for music,” said Vocal Chords’ founder Joyce Ghent. “My husband used to tell me ‘Joyce, you’re 20 years ahead of yourself.’ But the hospital thought it was great.”
Today, the Vocal Chords boast more than 100 members, and perform songs spanning time, and musical genres. Typically, the group performs two concerts a year and sings at other events in Central Connecticut. Along with drawing from hospital staff, the group also includes family, friends and others.
Growing up, Ghent played classical piano and became aware of the healing effects of music. But when she and a few of her fellow nurses began to harmonize Christmas carols one night in the intensive care unit, back in 1990, she got a good look at patients’ positive response.
“My motto is ‘music lifts the spirit and heals the soul,’” said Ghent, adding that the American Medical Association uses music therapy in the ICU and for palliative care and other needs.
The hospital gave Ghent $2,000 to help get the Vocal Chords started.
While some of her fellow nurses called her crazy, Ghent assembled a handful of interested singers and then began searching for a director, realizing that role wasn’t right for her.
Ghent said she found people she could trust and use as a resource for any problem that may arise with the group. One of those people was Middlefield resident Gina Fredericks.
“She called me, she came to my house and we met. I was really impressed with her enthusiasm from the start,” said Fredericks, one of the founders of the Greater Middletown Chorale.
"We did not know each other … we both had the same kind of dog, we both lived in the exact same kind of house, we both lost our husbands, we both lost a child. And we made Vocal Chords,” Ghent said. “Is that divine providence or what?”
For the first few years, Ghent and Fredericks worked with the singers, taking a few tentative steps into performing. But their efforts would find the spotlight.
Over the past three decades, the Vocal Chords have sung at the Vatican and for senators in D.C., and they twice performed at Disney World. They’ve participated in flash mobs, as well.
But Ghent and Fredericks agree that the most fulfilling performance of their careers was in 2011 when they hosted an event at the Bushnell Theater marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
“We helped raise $17,000 for the 9/11 Benevolence Fund,” Ghent said, adding that beyond the fundraising, the group helped provide healing.
Ghent recalled a letter she received from an audience member at the 9/11 rememberance concert. The letter-writer was living in New York City on that terrible day and she told Ghent how her life was forever impacted by the destruction she witnessed. She said was moved by the Vocal Chords’ performance.
Sandy Zajac is the Vocal Chords’ publicity chair.
“After my kids left, I needed something to feel useful again and I needed a purpose,” Zajac said. “I met so many wonderful people and we’re a family. That’s what it is, a family.”
Fredericks said all Vocal Chords members bring something important to the group. “We’re reaching out to people who are lonesome and just need an outlet during the week,” she said.
Through dues and drives, the Vocal Chords have distributed $74,000 in scholarships to local students pursuing a nursing or musical degree.
“If you close your heart, you’re never going to receive. It’s all about reaching out – I give you my hand, you give me yours,” Ghent said. “All you’re saying is ‘I care.’”
To learn more about the group, visit vocalchords20.org.