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Members of the Healthy Harmony Choir rehearsing in St. Mary’s Church, Quin, in preparation for ‘A Mid Summer’s Evening of Song’ choral concert on Saturday at 8.00pm. Photography by Eugene McCafferty

Hospital Choir Sings Out for Staff Wellbeing

THE Healthy Harmony Choir was formed by a group of medical practitioners at Ennis Hospital as a way to unwind and de-stress after a busy day’s work and now two years on, the 30-strong group are singing its praises in terms of its impact on their well-being.
Brenda Bleach, a registered advanced nurse practitioner at Ennis Hospital, is one of the choir members and has been involved with the choir since it began.
She explained how it got off the ground and why it has become such a popular outlet for staff across the entire UL Hospitals Group.
“We started off as staff from Ennis Hospital and we are two years old now. The first year one of the nurses was interested in singing and always wanted a choir, so I ran it by health and wellbeing and asked if it was something we could look at. We started the choir and we didn’t initially have funding. We had paid for it ourselves, then we got funding through the Health and Wellbeing Committee of the UL Hospitals Group so it has gone from there and we have people from across the hospitals group involved,” she said.
She explained that workplace choirs have become quite the phenomenon of late and that other hospitals and hospital groups have similar groups, which have been proving very beneficial.
“We love it because it is a way of de-stressing. We practise in a room in the cardiac rehab unit on the grounds of Ennis Hospital and whenever people finish work, usually around 8pm, people come over and we practise on a Tuesday evening until 9pm.
“We sing modern songs and some older ones too. It has really grown in the last two years. When we started off it was just hospital staff and now it has developed out to include anyone who works in the HSE, so we are willing to take public health nurses, anyone from St Joseph’s Hospital, so they are all very welcome to come. It’s a mixed choir and the retirees really are the stable but we have all professions, nurses, healthcare attendants, cleaners, maintenance and doctors involved,” she said.
There are up to 30 staff currently involved in the choir but given the hours worked, with some on night duty and rotas, it can be difficult to get a large cohort to rehearsals, which has been a challenge for the choir director, Carol O’Neill.
However, the participation levels are not too concerning, as Brenda explains that it is more about having fun and bringing people together.
“It is only for fun and we have the craic. We do events every now and then to use what we’ve learned. Last October, we sang at a health and wellbeing hospitals event in the University Concert Hall in Limerick, where we had the Tullamore and Cork hospital based choirs and that was a great event for us.
“It is a great coming together. You get to talk to people that you may not meet every day at work, and you get to know them, and when you meet them in the corridors in work, you are asking them are you practising your part, and everyone knows you are talking about the choir.
“It is good fun and a great way to de-stress. I’m not a singer, and I never thought myself as a singer, but I keep going. I started at the beginning and I’d count myself as someone who can’t sing but it is open to anyone. There are no auditions; anyone can come,” Brenda continued.
The Healthy Harmony Choir will perform as part of a choral event, organised by their choral director Carol O’Neill, in Quin this coming weekend in the local church. Brenda is looking forward to the occasion and the choir are expected to sing some songs by Billy Joel, Coldplay and a few other popular and well-known songs.
This will be their last official engagement before they break for the summer but Brenda said the choir will start up again in September and hope to see some new faces when they return.
She explained that they partake in a number of events at the hospital throughout the year, which gives them a chance to sing publicly. These include the hospital remembrance mass and the blessing of the hands service for healthcare professionals.
Asked what she gets out of going every week, Brenda said, “I work until 8.30pm and I find it is great to go over and de-stress before you go home. You might have a hard day and you’re really tired and you might say ‘the last thing I want to do is go and sing’ but when you do, it just seems to de-stress everything.
“You sing out your part and then you also get to meet people you work with but who you mightn’t have seen all week and have a chat. I also have found I got better at singing.”
When the choir first started, it was under the stewardship of Fiona Walsh but this past year Carol O’Neill has been directing them. Brenda is encouraging anyone interested in getting involved to contact her.
“It is free to any HSE or employee of the UL Hospital Group. They can contact me through work to get involved. It’s a nice group. You have a bit of craic, no-one is taking it too seriously and it’s all for fun. We like to have a performance to work towards, and to have a bit of a challenge, but ultimately it is about de-stressing and feeling happy.
“We are really looking forward to our performance in Quin. That will be very exciting for us, as it is a year since we did a public event. We are hoping our colleagues will come and support us,” she said.
The Healthy Harmony Choir is the only workplace choir in the UL Hospitals Group and are funded through the health and well-being programme. It is anticipated on the back of this choir’s success that other choirs may be formed within the hospitals group.

About Carol Byrne

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Carol Byrne is a reporter at The Clare Champion newspaper reporting on news in the East Clare area and the arts. She also covers the courts in County Clare and has received seven national awards for this coverage from the Law Society of Ireland and a National Lottery Local Ireland national media award for Best Community Story 2019. A Masters in Journalism graduate of NUI Galway, she also holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Limerick in Music and Media Studies, and a Higher Diploma in Irish Legal Studies. She began her career interning at The Limerick Leader and Clare FM, before taking up a full time post at The Clare Champion in 2006.

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